A remarkable theme echoing through much of the political press Thursday morning is the realization that Tea Party candidates who are running for office as Republicans are hurting the party’s chances in a year that otherwise has been predicted to be a huge Republican landslide. The Washington Post headlines its story on the topic “Tea party antics could end up burning Republicans“, while Reuters declares “Tea Party-backed Republicans spur party switches“. The Guardian brings out the best headline and best line, however, with the headline “The GOP’s coming Tea Party hangover” and the line “Tea is the Republican party’s cocaine: thrilling for a moment, but ruinous over time.” Tea Party candidates have won nominations in Republican primaries by channeling unfocused rage, but as that rage now erupts into a combination of genuine violence and a complete inability to articulate a platform (as demonstrated by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in this video, where she can’t even deliver an opening statement in a debate), even Republicans are moving away from “the crazy” and looking for candidates who are interested in good government rather than good theater.
The Reuters article on Republicans backing Democratic candidates over Tea Party Republicans is revealing:
For lifelong Republican Joe Errigo, deciding to cross party lines and support a liberal Democrat for New York governor wasn’t nearly as difficult as one might expect.
Republican candidate Carl Paladino — backed by the conservative Tea Party movement — raised such political hackles he spawned a “Republicans for Cuomo” movement supporting Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
In Delaware, where Christine O’Donnell has Tea Party support, Republicans backing Democrat Chris Coons include a former state judge and former U.S. Congressman. A “Republicans for Coons” Facebook site reads: “Because we just can’t support Christine O’Donnell.”
In Arizona, “Republicans for Giffords” are backing Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords over conservative Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly.
In Nevada, incumbent Democrat Sen. Harry Reid, who faces Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, counts among his Republican supporters an array of influential gaming and casino executives.
Here is the Post’s take on recent developments:
The tea party’s volatile influence on this election year appears to be doing more harm than good for Republicans’ chances in some of the closest races in the nation, in which little-known candidates who upset the establishment with primary wins are now stumbling in the campaign’s final days.
In Kentucky, a volunteer for tea-party-backed Senate candidate Rand Paul was videotaped stepping on the head of a liberal protester. In Delaware and Colorado, Senate hopefuls Christine O’Donnell and Ken Buck, respectively, are under fire for denying that the First Amendment’s establishment clause dictates a separation of church and state. In Nevada, GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle is drawing rebuke for running TV ads that portray Latino immigrants as criminals and gang members.
Perhaps the most dramatic tea party problems are in Alaska, where Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller is suffering another round of unfavorable headlines after it was revealed late Tuesday that he had admitted lying about his misconduct while working as a government lawyer in Fairbanks.
With those developments as background, the Post draws this conclusion:
Such moments are giving Democrats hope that the few undecided voters who remain may become turned off and move away from Republicans in the closer races nationwide, including those in Colorado, Nevada and Kentucky.
This is a remarkable amount of self-inflicted damage for Republicans. Keep in mind that as Jane Mayer informed us, the Tea Party’s growth was funded by the Koch brothers, who are long-time Republican donors:
A few weeks after the Lincoln Center gala, the advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—an organization that David Koch started, in 2004—held a different kind of gathering. Over the July 4th weekend, a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a chilly hotel ballroom in Austin. Though Koch freely promotes his philanthropic ventures, he did not attend the summit, and his name was not in evidence. And on this occasion the audience was roused not by a dance performance but by a series of speakers denouncing President Barack Obama. Peggy Venable, the organizer of the summit, warned that Administration officials “have a socialist vision for this country.”
Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”
The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.”
Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for the Kochs, their movement now seems to be suffering from channeling too much anger and not enough substance. And as The Guardian points out, that is making a huge problem for Republicans:
The answer is becoming ever clearer. Tea is the Republican party’s cocaine: thrilling for a moment, but ruinous over time.
As the Tea Party tide swept through the GOP, its undertow pulled dissenters, including even Karl Rove, into line. But the Tea Party’s intra-movement triumphs have lost their lustre of late.
But in the medium term, the economy will begin to recover – and the GOP’s position will become much more perilous than is acknowledged at present. It might actually be better for its health if several of the Tea Party movement-backed candidates lost on Tuesday. Such a result would, at least, give early warning of the dangers of selecting eccentrics and extremists as one’s standard-bearers.
If they win, though, the likes of Paul, Angle and Miller will become frontline figures – and their inherent weirdness will seriously corrode Republican appeal to the swing voters who still decide national elections.
So, just as Jon Walker has pointed out the short-term strategic reasons why Democrats have helped to place Tea Party candidates onto ballots to split Republican votes when a mainstream Republican has been nominated, there may be longer term strategic reasons for Democrats to not panic over a victory or two by extremist candidates like Rand Paul or Sharron Angle. By electing certifiable crazies to such important posts as the US Senate, the Tea Party will do more to discredit Republicans than billions of dollars worth of Democratic advertising could dream of achieving. And the fact that some Republicans already have made this realization and are hustling to support Democrats for the first time in their lives is just a preview of the huge pains coming for Republicans after this election is over and the votes are counted.