By Hans Bader
By intervening in GOP Senate primaries in Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado, in favor of candidates who went on to lose the general election to relatively unpopular Democratic incumbents, the Tea Party Express may have ensured continued Democratic control of the Senate.
The GOP picked up no more than six seats in the Senate, leaving it with at most 47 seats out of 100. By contrast, in the House of Representatives, where the Tea Party Express played much less of a role in selecting GOP nominees, the GOP took control of the House, picking up around 60 seats.
The GOP’s failure to gain more seats in the Senate has left Obama with a relatively strong hand in making judicial and other appointments. To stop an Obama nominee from being confirmed in a majority Democratic Senate, Republicans will usually need to come up with 40 votes to filibuster that nominee. But getting 40 of 47 senators to agree to do that will be difficult in most cases, since the Republican Senators from some states like Maine are liberal on judicial issues, and some others who are not liberal, like Senator Hatch, philosophically object to filibusters over appointments (as opposed to legislation). This means that except in extreme cases, the GOP will not be able to stop judicial nominees even when the GOP perceives them as disturbingly radical.
The Democrats’ loss of control of the House is a huge rebuke to Democrats and Obama, and reflects public opposition to Obamacare, the failed stimulus package, and the administration’s mishandling of the economy. But the GOP’s failure to retake the Senate is a rebuke, too, to the stratum of the GOP favored by the Tea Party Express. The Tea Party Express gave the Democrats and Obama continued control over the arguably most important house of Congress, leaving Obama with the upper hand in many political battles to come.
In September, I discussed in my personal blog how the Tea Party Express’s intervention in Delaware in support of Christine O’Donnell had turned a certain GOP victory into a certain GOP defeat, and how its intervention in Nevada in support of Sharron Angle made the GOP’s quest to oust unpopular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid an uphill battle. Had Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell not been nominated, the nominee would have been veteran moderate Republican Congressman and former governor Mike Castle, who was widely popular in Delaware, and was endorsed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is hardly a liberal RINO (Christie won a straw poll among Virginia Tea Partiers). Castle would have crushed liberal Chris Coons in the election. Instead, thanks to Castle’s loss to O’Donnell in the primary (where independent voters could not vote in favor of Castle), Coons easily defeated O’Donnell.
Had Sharron Angle not been nominated in Nevada, the nomination would have instead gone to Sue Lowden, a telegenic candidate with little political baggage who comfortably led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in polls, and would have ousted him in November, putting her on a shortlist of potential future GOP vice presidential picks, and obviating the need for a Republican nominee seeking a female vice presidential pick to pick someone with more political baggage, like 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who probably cost McCain at least as many votes as she brought him. (Owing to the absence of conservative GOP female senators interested in being vice president, McCain had little choice but to pick Palin if he wanted a telegenic vice-presidential nominee who could appeal both to the conservative base and to voters who wanted a gender-balanced ticket.)
Many conservative activists and bloggers think that there is a silent majority of conservatives in every state, based on the fact that their own circle of friends is overwhelmingly conservative. Unfortunately for them, that’s just not true. Most people don’t have much ideology at all, and many that do have an ideology are not conservative. Obama’s low poll results are primarily the result of a bad economy, and secondarily the result of his policy failures and mistakes, not the result of some great conservative awakening. The public is not outraged enough at Obama to vote for anyone who opposes him, no matter how conservative. Indeed, the public finds certain principled conservative positions disturbing, just as it finds certain Obama liberal positions disturbing.
People who think the country is conservative beneath the surface are living in a bubble, just like the Obama supporters were deluding themselves when they came to the conclusion that the country had become staunchly liberal just because Obama won in 2008 based on the bad economy. (Conservative activist Mark Levin claimed that Delaware could be won by O’Donnell because it was not a “deep blue” state — something that was true 30 years ago when Levin worked in the trenches, but is not true today, when Delaware is indeed deep blue, with Obama defeating McCain by a massive, enormous margin of almost 25 percent in 2008 – vastly more than in America at large, just as Kerry and Gore decisively defeated Bush in Delaware in earlier elections that Bush won nationally. Levin, who makes his living in the conservative echo chamber by selling books read only by other right-wingers, personally attacked conservative lawyer Paul Mirengoff for pointing out the inconvenient truth that O’Donnell could not win a general election in Delaware. Mirengoff’s influential conservative blog Powerline may have saved George Bush from defeat in his 2004 re-election campaign by exposing the Rathergate scandal.)
One illustration of the American public’s basically non-ideological, not-very-conservative nature, is the Nevada senate race, where Angle’s bluntly conservative views and candor cost her in the polls, and were characterized even by GOP political analysts as gaffes. If there actually were a silent majority of conservatives in America, Angle would have won, but she lost, even in a state that has a slight GOP tilt in gubernatorial elections, and even as the GOP won the governor’s race and two of three House races. (Yes, I am well aware that in polls, more people self-describe as conservative than liberals. But the so-called conservatives actually aren’t very conservative, as conservative analysts at places like American Enterprise Institute have noted.
Self-described liberals are liberals across the board on both social and economic issues. Self-described conservatives include four types of people: (1) true-blue conservatives on both social and economic issues; (2) social conservatives who don’t understand economics and thus are liberal on economic issues; (3) economically-conservative people who are liberal on social issues; and (4) people who are not conservative on either economic or social issues, but call themselves that for reasons that are unclear. True-blue conservatives are actually rarer than hardcore liberals. Economic conservatives are also rarer than liberals.
Most people are neither conservatives nor liberals. Sometimes the truth hurts. This is the unpleasant truth for conservatives. The Tea Party Express needs to deal with this truth, rather than living in fantasy-land.)
In Colorado, the Tea Party Express backed prosecutor Ken Buck in the GOP primary over former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, who had already been elected to statewide office and was more telegenic than Buck, resulting in the GOP’s narrow loss in November to Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet. After a few controversial comments about “high heels,” and subjects like the origins of homosexuality and whether the founding fathers intended a full separation of church and state — all subjects entirely irrelevant to the Senate race and which Buck would have been wise to avoid — Buck lost to unpopular incumbent Michael Bennet by a fraction of one percent of the vote.
Norton would have narrowly won, and would have done better among female voters (In addition to his self-inflicted wounds, Buck was also injured by a smear campaign that depicted him as a sexist based on his perfectly reasonable decision not to bring a sex-crimes prosecution where reasonable doubt existed, a decision that even liberal newspapers admitted was a reasonable one. Norton would not have had that baggage, and would have fared better among female voters.)