03 November 2010

Tea Types in the Senate Cooling Saucer

The 2010 Midterm Election Cycle featured the emergence of the Tea Party in contemporary American politics.  The TEA Party inspired by an adherence to constitutional governance and the feeling that Americans were Taxed Enough Already.  The Tea Party exerted its influence in the Republican primaries and in the general election.

The Tea Party was instrumental in defeating some incumbent establishment Republicans in the primaries and pushing the agenda more conservative.   Three term Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) was defeated by nominating convention in May by now Senator-elect Mike Lee (R-UT).  Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) was considered to be a shoe-in for Delaware’s Senate seat in the general election, but was defeated by Tea Party Express favorite Christine O’Donnell for the Republican nomination.

 Florida Governor Charlie Crist (?-FL) was being positioned to be Florida’s Republican Senate nominee until a strong Tea Party challenge by now Senator-elect Marco Rubio (R-FL) prompted Crist to come out of the ideological closet and declare himself Independent to run as a third party Senate candidate. A similar scenario occurred in Alaska when incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski (?-AK) lost the GOP primary nomination to Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, but she launched a write in campaign. The differences there is that Murkowski may actually win and she says that she will still caucus with the Republicans, while Crist toyed with caucusing with the Democrats as Crist echoed President Obama on the stump.

Exit polling seemed to indicate at 23% of voters were strongly influenced by the Tea Party. That is pretty remarkable for a spontaneous, leaderless movement that sprung up in the last 18 months. Certainly the Lamestream Media will intimate that this quarter of the electorate is a fringe movement.  Such a specious conclusion conflicts with the fact that 40% of the electorate considers itself conservative, which has considerable overlap with the Tea Party.  The Tea Party has also been cast as merely a Republican movement.  I suspect that polling will show how Democrats have lost their sway with Independents and their weltanschauung is more aligned with Tea Party principles.  Aside from newly elected Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the Blue Dog Democrat is virtually extinct in the Senate.  There are several RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) in the Senate who are up in 2012 and are trying to  curry favor with the Tea Party movement.

In assessing the impact of the Tea Party on the Senate side, I find that there were three types of brew: Weak Tea, Strong Tea and Mulled Wine.

The Tea Party brought new energy and individuals into the federal politics.  Some of these candidates were primary wonders who could win in the self selected closed preliminaries but were weak candidates in the general election.  In Connecticut, Linda McMahon won an on and off primary campaign from former Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CN 2nd) for the Republican Senate nomination.  McMahon was willing to spend up to $50 million of her own money earned from being President of the World Wrestling Federation to beat Democrat Senate Nominee Dick Blumenthal.  But McMahon ran a lackluster campaign that allowed itself to get tarred by WWF connections.

In Nevada, Sharron Angle was vaulted by the Tea Party Express and other conservative activists  from her position in the Nevada Assembly to defeating Sue Lowden, the former Chairman of the Nevada Republican party for the Republican Senate nomination.  Due to the national antipathy of Democrat Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Angle was able to fund raise any eye popping $15 million in the 3rd quarter. Angle made some verbal gaffes, she voiced conservative issues and was painted by Reid as being mentally unstable.   The Democrats threw every resource that they had in Nevada. Unions pulled out the stops.  Harrah’s casino even coordinated with Reid’s staff to buttonhole workers to go to the polls.  In the end, Angle lost by 5.5%

Delaware had Tea Party Express darling Christine O’Donnell defeating nine term Congressman Mike Castle (DE-AL) for the Republican Senate nomination.  O’Donnell was a staunch conservative but she had a quirky background, being a perennial candidate without an established record along with some personal financial troubles.  What was more devastating was a ten year old appearance on Bill Mahr’s Politically Incorrect where she mentions that she dabbled in witchcraft.  It did not matter that this was a brief experience twenty years before in high school.  The left tagged her as a witch.  O’Donnell tried jujitsu with an opening general election ad “I’m Not a Witch” which backfired.  The Lamestream Media savaged her as a flake and being stupid, which her inept campaign never recovered.

Despite having strong personalities, these candidates were weak tea because they were inexperienced for vigorous national campaigns, they ran unremarkable campaigns with some gaffes and they allowed themselves to be tarred by establishment ad hominem attacks that were trumpeted by the Lamestream Media.  It is telling that the aforementioned candidates were women demeaned by the “Nuts & Sluts” brush ala James Carville.

That being said, there were convincing Tea Party candidate victories that can only be classified as Strong Tea.  Florida Senator-elect Marco Rubio (R-FL) dismissed the establishment, ran on conservative principles and trounced both the Democrat and the sitting governor. He is a rising star with a great biography, a sunny disposition and the loyalty of the Tea Party.  In Kentucky, Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) overcame associations with his father (who marches to his own drumbeat), an early gottcha gaffe from the media and a last minute smear on his religiousity.  Senator-elect Paul will bring a true libertarian perspective to the GOP Senate caucus.  There were strong Tea Party Victories by Senator-elect Ron Johnson (R-WI) beating  three term incumbent Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), Senator-elect Pat Toomey (R-PA), Senator-elect Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Senator-elect Mike Lee (R-UT) who defeated three term Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) in the primary and coasted to general election victory.  All of these wins should bring a big smile to Tea Partiers.

But Republican victories were not entirely attributable to runnings from the Tea Party.  I will characterize these victories as Mulled Wine in old skins– it’s a tasty libation but a different brew from the Tea Party.

 Although the election of Senator-elect Dan Coats (R-IN) will gladden conservatives hearts, his return to the Upper Chamber does not mark the advancement of an outsider.  Senator-elect Ron Portman (R-OH) was a Congressman and also the US Trade Representative and OMB Director for President George W. Bush.  Portman is the triumph of an old GOP hand.  Senator-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) was a moderate Congressman from downstate Illinois.  Kirk might be the best that can be expected from the Land of Lincoln at this time, but certainly his vote for Cap and Trade this year would not go down well with Tea Party types.  Senator-elect Roy Blunt (R-MO) had been US House Minority Whip before stepping down to prepare for the Missouri Senate race.  Blunt is an establishment Republican who conservatives will appreciate but not the Tea Party type.

I believe that Senator-elect Marco Rubio was astute in his acceptance to not characterize the wins as an embrace by the electorate of the Republican Party but instead is a second chance for the Grand Old Party to live up to their stated ideals.  Assuredly, Tea Party types will not tolerate a lapse back to the go along to get along creeping crony capitalistic statism.  If the Congress reverts to it’s old ways from the mid 2000's, it may be the Republicans last chance at survival.

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