The national reaction to the Tea Party Movement can at best be described as mixed. The grassroots movement that has been developed from the more conservative parts of Republican party made its midterm election debut on Tuesday with moderate success. While many are spinning the Tea Party’s success as sign of the movements growing appeal, in reality, it shows the limited and divisive nature of the movement.
The Tea Party had success unseating incumbent and high profile Republicans in the primaries, in particular Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who was seeking his party’s nomination for the Senate, and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. While Crist ultimately lost as an independent candidate for the seat, Murkowski apparently has led one of the most successful write-in campaigns in U.S. history and appears to be positioned to keep her seat. So from a Republican’s perspective, does the Tea Party help the larger Party? No, it hurts the party tremendously.
The Tea Party candidates appeal to the more conservative, very loyal base of the party. The people who turned to vote for Tea Party would have turned out to vote Republican regardless of the movement. So the movement does little to broaden the base, it just reinforces it. The Tea Party, however, has had a huge impact on the party. In many cases, the movement put Republican candidates on the ballot with little appeal to the centrist voters, and in some cases, the candidates simply alienated the center, giving the election the Democrats, a lose-lose situation for Tea-Republicans and non-Tea-Republicans.
Christine O’Donnell’s campaign is a prime example of the destructive effects the Tea Party is having on the GOP. O’Donnell lost bids in 2006 and 2008 for the Senate; she has a proven track record of failure. But with endorsements from Sarah Palin and other Tea Party die-hards, she defeated former Governor Mike Castle in the primary, and, shockingly, reinforced her losing track record in the general election on Tuesday. Many believed the Delaware seat would have been in play and may have potentially turned red had Castle received the nomination.
Rand Paul’s election to the Senate can easily be explained because the electorate in the state of Kentucky is so right heavy, that many people in the state, apparently a large majority, agree with him and will vote for him. This situation is true and many other states such as Georgia, South Carolina and have similar circumstances. On a national level the movement simply will drive people away from the party.
Tea Party success in House follows similar patterns. Generally, they are winning districts that bleed red and would rarely, almost never, elect a Democrat. They are not broadening or expanding the party, they are limiting it.
The old Republican guard knows the destructive nature of the Tea Party and has known this for some time. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell adamantly opposed Rand Paul in the primary because he understood that increased momentum for the movement will hurt the Republican brand in the long term. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich ruled the Delaware seat out of play once O’Donnell received the nomination. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed concerns of the racial undertones that many Tea Party leaders invoke.
With midterm elections now in the rearview mirror, the Republicans must now shift its focus to 2012 and the race for the Presidency. The party leadership must find a way to keep the Tea Party members from hijacking the party platform and ruining viable candidates in the primary season that will kick off in the next couple months as Republicans begin to announce their candidacy. A Tea Party candidate will only lead the Republican Party to a loss in 2012. The movement will not win on a national scale. There is a large power vacuum in the Republican Party right now and if the likes of Rand Paul fill that vacuum, then it will lights out for the GOP.