The whole idea of the Tea Party movement seems a bit confusing. If taken alone the overwhelming frustration with status quo politics is easily understandable and completely rational.
However, the approach that the Tea Party takes to accomplish its goals is highly counterproductive.
They have opted to wield pitchforks and torches in a populist frenzy while backing insurgent candidates who promise to fight the evil establishment and bring new ideas to Washington.
Let’s take a step back for a second and look at the party’s positions to see what these awe-inspiring new ideas are. They support balancing the federal budget, repealing the health care legislation, reducing earmarks and stopping cap and trade energy legislation.
Oddly enough, these positions are identical to those of staunch conservatives. If the ideas between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party are largely the same, then what is the gain in challenging a Republican establishment candidate?
Essentially, they believe that many current Republicans have failed them by supporting big government and not completely adhering to this party line.
Unfortunately, the Tea Party’s strict devotion to right wing policies has created a rift within the Republican Party between establishment moderates who would rather have a big tent and insurgents who demand party purity.
In a year that many political analysts see Republicans taking back the House, this division has created a vicious pattern that threatens to turn this election season from great to simply good.
The pattern starts off with a Republican establishment moderate who is largely expected to win their race by an extremely large margin. The Tea Party candidate, who often carries a lot of baggage with him or her, enters the race. The next step in this story is that the Tea Party candidate proceeds to pull an upset win in the republican primary by presenting themselves as being more conservative and receiving massive cash infusions from out of state sponsors. Unfortunately, these extremely conservative views, frequently combined with personal problems, make this candidate unpopular in the general election and the Democratic nominee then becomes very competitive.
The real danger to the conservative movement is seen in the Senate, where the GOP is predicted to have a small chance of securing a majority if they win most of their competitive races. Unfortunately for them, the Tea Party has swooped in and thrown a monkey wrench into the entire process, which is potentially lethal when every Senate seat counts.
In Delaware for example, Republican establishment favored moderate Mike Castle was expected to easily win Joe Biden’s old senate seat. His moderate positions appealed to the liberal leaning state and as a result, he had been a successful politician there for forty years. Enter Tea Party-backed candidate Christine O’Donnell who unsuccessfully ran for the seat twice, possesses mountains of unpaid personal and campaign debts, lied about her college degree, has been lampooned by her former campaign staffers who said that she was “idiotic,” “paranoid,” and “self-absorbed,” and was called by the state GOP chairman a person who “could not be elected dog catcher.”
Despite all of this, she was able to win the Republican primary because she tacked so far right of Castle. Unfortunately, a solid Republican does not do so well in the general election in a blue state. Current polling has her trailing Democratic nominee Chris Coons by sixteen points.
This is not a lone story of a baggage-laden, fringe candidate beating a candidate who more accurately represents the population. Across the country, Tea Party-backed candidate Sharron Angle won her primary in Nevada, but her suggestions that both Social Security and the Department of Education be abolished have given fresh life to the campaign of Democrat Harry Reid, who was thought to be a goner in the election. The same story is seen in Kentucky, with insurgent Rand Paul suggesting that the Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional, and in Alaska, with candidate Joe Miller supporting the elimination of unemployment benefits.
At the end of the day, the Tea Party has to ask itself: is the control of the Senate worth risking in order to get candidates who will vote entirely along the party line instead of ones who might flirt with bipartisanship? After all, Mike Castle’s defeat of Christine O’Donnell isn’t really a victory for the Tea Party if she goes on to be crushed in the general election to a person who would rarely side with the Tea Party on important issues. Unfortunately, the Tea Party does not seem to realize this reality. The emotional populist frenzy that drives them appears to have impaired both their sense of judgment and basic math skills.