The Tea Party may be the best thing that has happened to the Republican Party since Barack Obama got elected President. Its members, fed up and fired up, have sacrificed their time and personal pursuits to try to alter the direction of the government and effect real change. Much like the movement that helped propel Obama to the White House, the Tea Party has challenged the establishment and injected passion into politics. But now it could cost Republicans key Senate seats in November. These dual truths spotlight the state of America’s two major political parties as the country heads into the midterms, examines Obama’s first two years in office and looks beyond to 2012.
There are two significant differences between Obama’s grass-roots upswell and the rise of the Tea Party adherents. First, Obama attracted people across a wide swath of the political spectrum, from the far left to just right of center; the Tea Party is almost exclusively hard right. Second, the Obamans were insurgent in their mind-set but downright establishment in their technology, organization, fundraising and ability to use the existing rules to beat the power players at their own game. For all its energy, the Tea Party has not had the chance to demonstrate the same sustained capacity for winning methodology and follow-through.
That means that while the Tea Partyers are enthusiastic and have earned a series of short-term victories, they aren’t necessarily destined for electoral success this fall. Their penchant for supporting less mainstream, less electable, more erratic candidates, according to some worried senior Republican strategists, might jeopardize Republican chances in at least five Senate races in November and even the GOP presidential nominee in the general election two years hence.
The Colorado, Nevada and Pennsylvania Senate seats are all now held by Democrats; Florida and Kentucky have Republican incumbents. With their unpredictable styles and imprudent mouths, the Tea Partyâfavored candidates, so dominant in the primaries, have put their general contests in peril at an especially critical time â when Republicans need to net 10 seats in order to win back control of the chamber. The Tea Party may display an admirable drive, but it is an indisputable reality that the same purity of views that has allowed the movement to dominate many primaries leaves the GOP vulnerable in November.