Tea Party on the Decline

The historic 2010 midterm elections proved to be one of the most successful election years for the GOP. Republicans won six U.S. senate seats, 63 seats in the House of Representatives, six governorships, and 680 seats in state legislators. Apprehension towards the Affordable Care Act and the overall perception of the Obama Administration gave rise to the Tea Party, the boisterous, right wing faction of the GOP. Establishment Republicans such as Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Delaware Congressman Michael Castle lost their primaries to “anti-establishment” Tea Party candidates.

Four years later, public opinion polls and a number of primaries reveal that the Tea Party’s political leverage in the Republican Party has withered. In November 2010, 61% of Republicans supported the Tea Party. According to a recent Gallup poll, Tea Party support among Republican voters has fallen to 41%.

Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), founder of the House Tea Party Caucus asserted in the 2011 Tea Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address that the Tea Party is a “dynamic force for good in our national conversation.” More recently, Bachmann spoke at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and said that the Tea Party “at its core is an intellectual movement.”

However, Tea Party Republicans have not lived up to Bachmann’s evaluation. In fact, Republicans that identify with the Tea Party have burdened the GOP and cost it a number of winnable Senate seats. In 2010, Tea Party-backed Christine O’Donnell defeated Congressman Michael Castle (‘61 Hamilton alumnus) in the Republican primary for a Delaware U.S. Senate seat. In the general election, Democrat Chris Coons defeated O’Donnell 57% to40%. Most political analysts believe that moderate Castle would have defeated Coons had he been the nominee. In 2012, analysts believed Tea Party favorite Todd Akin could defeat Democrat Claire McCaskill in the right-leaning state of Missouri. But after Akin made an abhorrent comment on abortion, the tides turned and McCaskill retained her Senate seat.

This past June, many GOP incumbents became concerned after Tea Party challenger David Brat defeated house majority leader Eric Cantor. Despite Cantor’s defeat, a number of Republican voters have demonstrated waning support for the Tea Party. Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Cornyn (R-TX), Thad Cochran (R-MI), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and most notably Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have all defeated anti-establishment Tea Party candidates in their respective primaries.

Flawed Tea Party nominees would make it almost impossible for Republicans to win the Senate next month. Fortunately, the increasing irrelevance of the Tea Party has bolstered the likelihood of Republicans taking control of the Senate. To their dismay, Democrats know that they may lose the Senate and Nancy Pelosi’s recent assertion that “civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate” demonstrates a sense of desperation among the Democratic leadership.

A congressional primary right here in Central New York’s 22nd congressional district showcased a battle between a moderate incumbent Republican and a far-right challenger. Incumbent Congressman Richard Hanna faced a challenge from New York State Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford). Tenney portrayed herself as the true conservative candidate and received endorsements from commentators such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Tenney’s voting record proves that she is indeed one of the most fiscally and socially conservative members of the New York State Assembly. Hanna, a strong fiscal conservative, tilts left on a number of social issues. On June 24th, Hanna defeated Tenney 53%-47%. These past few years, Hanna’s transparency, practicality, and willingness to reach across the aisle have made him an effective legislator.

The Tea Party weakens the Republican Party. Chairman of the Ohio Republican Party Matt Borges emphasized that Republicans “can’t expect to win if we are fighting against each other all the time.” A complete dissolution of the counterproductive faction is not far off. Good riddance.