Tea Party 2010: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Tea Party movement was, until yesterday, a relatively unknown and elusive electoral force, having never existed for a national federal general election. Clearly, it had a great deal of influence among conservatives and Republicans during the primaries, with well-known "establishment" candidates in states such as Delaware, Alaska, and Nevada being knocked out one after another in favor of "Tea Party" candidates. In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 election (and even with a handful of races still undecided), it is hard to argue that the Tea Party wasn't a notable force in the general election as well. However, that force was not always positive, and indeed, some of the Tea Party's influences were bad, while a few instances were downright ugly. As someone who is neither a card-carrying party loyalist nor a dedicated Tea Party member, here is my take on those forces:

The Good

It is impossible to deny that the Tea Party contributed in many positive ways to the massive change of course that was the 2010 election. The Tea Party fueled much of the outrage behind the outcome, driving conservatives around the country to come out and vote in opposition to the President's extreme agenda.  Accordingly, it seems unlikely that the magnitude of Republican gains in the House would have been possible without the Tea Party.  Indeed, early exit poll data suggested that 41% of those voting in House races supported the Tea Party, while 31% opposed it – and that 87% of Tea Party supporters voted for the Republican candidate.

The Tea Party also helped elect immaculate candidates like Marco Rubio. The energy behind the Tea Party movement helped fuel Marco Rubio's lead in the Republican primary, which resulted in Charlie Crist deciding to instead run as an Independent, and ultimately produced a huge victory for Republicans nationwide. I firmly believe that Rubio, an incredibly brilliant and passionate man who will also happen to be the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate, will quickly emerge as a leader for the Republican Party. He's someone who can help attract many people from demographics key to long-term GOP sustainability – including Latinos and potentially young voters. Senator-elect Rubio's victory is certainly one of the most exciting developments of yesterday's election results.

The Bad

On the other hand, the Tea Party seems to have been fairly damaging to the prospect of a GOP takeover of the Senate. At the time of writing, Republicans had gained 6 seats in the Senate for a total of 46, which is unquestionably a respectable outcome. It looks like the votes remaining to be counted in Washington and Colorado will push the Democratic candidates over the top in both states – and Alaska is still a question mark, though it seems likely that either candidate will caucus with Republicans.

It's distinctly possible (and in at least one of the cases, fairly likely) that at least two of the Democratic Senate victories could have been Republican victories if not for relatively poor Tea Party candidates.  These candidates are, of course, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware (I'll come back to the latter shortly).

I actually expected Angle to squeak by, albeit very tightly.  The bottom line, however, is that Angle as a candidate left a lot to be desired – just Google "sharron angle gaffe" for a plethora of examples, but this one in particular comes to mind.  Her loss against a highly unpopular and vulnerable Harry Reid is an unambiguous testament to that fact.

Obviously, different results in the two races in Delaware and Nevada – even with the victor in Alaska caucusing with Republicans – would not alone have produced a majority (Republicans would then hold 49 seats in the Senate before CO and WA).  However, it seems hard to believe there won't be a battle in the Senate sometime over the next two years in which those two additional Republican Senators would be helpful.  Not to mention the possibility that Independent Senators Lieberman and Nelson may have chosen to caucus with Republicans.

The Ugly

There's Sharron Angle, and then there's Christine O'Donnell.  I have to make it clear up front that I think Ms. O'Donnell is a wonderful woman.  I had a meeting with her and her campaign manager shortly before she exploded onto the national scene, and I found her well-spoken, intelligent, and extremely personable.  But being a great person is not nearly enough in politics, particularly at the Senatorial level, and there's no way that a reasonable person can honestly say that she was remotely close to being even an acceptable candidate.  When you need to run an ad saying that you're "not a witch," your campaign is clearly in trouble.  Let alone the countless allegations of impropriety in handling campaign funds, which regardless of whether they are true make it unmistakenly clear that the Tea Party members who backed her candidacy and helped her defeat Mike Castle in the primary blatantly failed to properly vet her.

Karl Rove's thoughts on this are spot-on:

"It gave me no pleasure to say that she was unlikely to win," he said. "But this again provides a lesson. This is a candidate who was right on the issues, but who had mishandled a series of questions brought up by the press."

From start to finish, Christine O'Donnell's candidacy as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware was flat out ugly.

Bottom Line

Even with a handful of outcomes still up in the air, it is unmistakenly clear that the 2010 election was nothing less than a wave delivered by voters who resoundingly rejected the Democratic agenda.  A great deal of outrage came from members of the Tea Party movement, and that frustration played an important role in delivering substantial gains for Republicans – not only in the Congress, but also in governor's mansion and state legislatures around the nation.  However, with these positives came at least one significant negative – a larger than ideal Democratic margin in the Senate that resulted from a couple of poor Tea Party candidates.

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On the other hand, the Tea

On the other hand, the Tea Party seems to have been fairly damaging to the prospect of a GOP takeover of the Senate.

Revealing what I think is one of the major problems endemic within the GOP of today.  Namely, if teapartiers dont think the GOP fairly represents them, then why should they support putative GOP candidates?  It is possible that those candidates that the GOP supported over Angle, O'Donnald, Buck, Kirk, Rubio, or Tomey could have won their respective states.  In fact, some did, some did not, and some could not ; some GOP-sanctioned, highly touted, and exceptionally well financed candidates also did not nor could not win.  

Perhaps if the GOP actually started listening to the voters of all states - you know, trying to figure out which of the candidates they deem worthy, are, in fact, acceptable to the constituents they need to enthusastically campaign and vote... well, they might have a better chance of success. 

One reaps what one sows, perhaps we (us non-establishment types, us nasty "tea-baggers) are just tired of our self-acclaimed political betters always finding someone/something else to pin their own faults upon.

Personally speaking, the heavy handedness of the CO state GOP (during the caucuses and pre-primary) was off-putting enough to usher in Dan Maes and Ken Buck as GOP candidates.  A clearly adverse reaction to myopically elitist thinking.  And as Obama should be learning, scapegoating as ignorant the masses for not recognizing his/your magnificant omnicience, puts more in peril ones own political wellbeing... and frankly your honesty (intellectual and otherwise) as well.



Tea Party Different?

 As someone who's conservative but not a die-hard Tea Party devotee, I wonder what you think about the argument Matt Taibbi made in his article in Rolling Stone.  Ignore the tone, which even as a left of center reader of this blog I admit was fairly condescending to Tea Party enthusiasts.  But tone aside, I found the general argument that the Tea Party movement isn't anything new in American conservative politics, and is a pretty historically standard outgrowth of conservative reaction to times of Democratic power in the 20th century, perhaps stronger this time as it can draw upon the build-up of conservative media and a terrible economy, pretty convincing.

This is not to say that this stronger reaction, and the form it seems to be taking, isn't an encouraging development for conservatives.  The Obama campaign was impressive, but it seems more likely that Tea Party groups might succeed in continuing to hold their newly elected representatives' feet to the fire better than the new folks brought to the table by the Obama campaign have been able to do.

yeah. you tell me that when nelnet's up and running again.

Issa's promising to hold hearings on Obama's birth certificate too...

If the Republicans keep their campaign promises to increase gov't bailouts of banks, I shall be most disappointed, but not surprised.

AFAIK, Obama's thrown tons of money at science, green energy, putting internet in rural areas, and has reduced usurious pricing on student loans.

Republicans seem fit and tied to beggar the next generation to reward banks for taking no risk.

I'd like Republicans more if they didn't roll back unabashedly positive improvements that Obama has made to our gov't. Saving money is good, Mr. Republican!

Wrong on the "Damage" by the Tea Party

O'Donnel did a great Job along with the Voters, in getting RID of Castle in the RI Primary.   As was also accomplished with Utah and Bennet.   Great job O'Donnel.

Having a RINO vote like a Democrat, isn't furthering the Republican Agenda at all. 


Coons trounced O'Donnell by 14 points. Over 50,000 votes. Are you telling me that there are 50,000+ Delawarians on the right who didn't vote at all because Mike Castle wasn't on the ballot? Or that at least half of that number who did vote were independents/blue dog dems who would have voted for Castle over Coons? That's a real stretch.