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For the Tea Party, Another Election, Another Defeat

Ever since the high water mark of the Tea Party movement in 2010 the path forward nationally has been nothing if not downhill. The net number of seats held by movement members on Capitol Hill has declined overall. Twice they have cost the Republican Party the Senate. The movement failed to put forth a viable presidential candidate in 2012. Tea Party favorability ratings with the public have steadily sunk to the lowest level since the birth of the movement. Coming off of a fresh debacle in their effort to derail Obamacare via a government shutdown Tea Party Republicans have trundled into yet a new set of defeats in Tuesday’s elections. Not a single Tea Party backed candidate or ballot initiative of consequence was successful.

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Another defeat may have Tea Partiers yearning for the good old days.

In Virginia Ken Cuccinelli lost by three percentage points and contrary to accepted wisdom he probably wouldn’t have benefitted from more money. Why? Because Cuccinelli was out of step with the very elements of the electorate that the GOP lost in 2012 so more money would have only advertised his shortcomings that much more increasing his negatives. Democrats won the Lt. Governor race by double digits and they are ahead in the race for Attorney General. Likewise, when the final counts are tallied, Democrats may win the next two most important seats after Attorney General. If Virginia Democrats win all five seats that will be the first time since 1966 that they have done so, a decided setback for the Virginia G.O.P.

Yes the Obamacare rollout has been a mess and that made for a tighter race in Virginia, but the GOP has a hand in that too and that reality will come back to haunt them in the next election cycle. As I have amply pointed out, roughly 35% of the people who are unhappy with the A.C.A. want a single payer system so when you combine that with those who favor the law you get a majority of Americans opposing the conservative plan, if you even want to call it a plan, which it is not. More important in Virginia than Obamacare was the shutdown which, quoting Howard Fineman of MSNBC, affected one out of every three families of whom two out of three blamed the Republican Party and voted for Terry McAuliffe. That said it’s not likely that increasing airtime for Ken Cuccinelli’s would have had much of an effect. In the end, ideology matters and Cuccinelli’s was just too disconnected from the people who’s votes he needed to win the election. The real question is where were all of the ultra conservatives that Cuccinelli needed to secure a win at the ballot box? Do they even exist in large enough numbers in Virginia or nationally, for that matter, to make the Tea Party successful outside of a few southern and rural electoral districts?

Meanwhile a Tea Party backed congressional candidate lost to a pro-business Republican moderate, Bradley Byrne, in Alabama. That defeat, however narrow it might be, speaks volumes to the fading power of the movement within a region where it should be at the peak of power. Yes it is true that in Alabama millions of dollars of outside money via pro-business groups was spent to assist Byrne, but, that said, if the Tea Party is so powerful in the state why couldn’t it mount an effective campaign to put it’s candidate and agenda over the top? The fact is that in Alabama, as is increasingly the case elsewhere, people are falling away from the movement and with that comes a weakened performance on election day.

In the Metropolitan New York area there were two races of significance. The reelection of Chris Christie in New Jersey was a major victory for the moderate and pragmatic Republican message, not the Tea Party version. In fact Christie’s reelection must be seen as a complete rejection of the Tea Party message and approach to politics. Chris Christie was successful by winning the groups that the GOP must win in order to win nationally. He doesn’t deny climate change, He’s not tone deaf on gun issues. He’s not a “know nothing” on the issue of immigration reform. He has a proven track record of working across the aisle and even gave President Obama credit where credit was due for his response to Hurricane Sandy. In his acceptance speech he summed it all up in a single sentence, “When you lead you need to listen.” That’s a far cry from the stock Tea Party language of rejection, fear mongering and obstruction.

The election of Bill de Blasio represents a distinct pendulum swing back from the excesses of the Bloomberg years and the fêting of the mega rich while the average New Yorker struggled to get by. Yes it’s true that we can’t tax the rich out of existence but there’s plenty of tax fairness that can be put back into the tax code to lessen the strain on middle and working class. This can be achieved without significantly affecting the rich and in so doing we could address some of the issues of income inequality that are sure to be a topic of discussion going forward. Besides, there’s no clear link between taxes and prosperity anyway and for all of the benefits to the economy that were supposed to flow from lowering the taxes on the “job creators” where are all the jobs?

There is a now steady and growing tide of resentment within the GOP against the excesses of the Tea Party movement, to wit: “Open warfare is breaking out among rival Republican groups, with one, Main Street Advocacy, set to start an ad campaign on Wednesday that blames conservative groups like the Tea Party for the recent series of political losses in critical elections across the United States.” That fact, coupled with the fact that the smart money on the right, a la the Koch Brothers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now dead set against the Tea Party bodes ill for the movement.

At some point the cumulative effect of a steady diet of defeat has got to begin to register within the Tea Party movement to the point that it either modifies it’s modus operandi or ceases to exist as a meaningful national movement. I believe that the tide has now turned against the movement and the course of that tide may be irreversible. Why, because political parties are about winning elections and successful political movements are about effecting long term positive change and the Tea Party has produced neither. It has stalled out with regard to winning significant elections and it’s biggest political “victory” is effecting the sequestration which is now widely seen as both an inefficient way to trim government spending and a drag on a struggling economy. In the final analysis success is about winning elections and producing useful policy not going down to defeat championing a political platform and tactics that are unpopular with the majority of the American people. Veteran conservative commentator Michael Gerson summed it all up as follows, likening the myopic Tea Party on election day to the disastrous Pickett’s Charge, the hallmark event in Confederate defeat at the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. To wit: “Tea party candidates — recall Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin — often lose winnable races. Tea party primary challenges, and the fear of them, encourage a harsher ideological tone among sitting Republican legislators, undermining their general-election appeal to independents, minorities and young people. And maximal tea party legislative strategies, as we’ve just seen, can be ruinous. Yet within an ideological bubble, success is defined differently — in purity, combativeness and the acclaim of the faithful. As the public standing of the GOP recently reached its lowest point ever. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) told a cheering tea party audience, “Look, the Democrats are feeling the heat.” It is one thing to engage in Pickett’s Charge; another to describe it as a victory.”

Steven J. Gulitti

6 November 2013


Virginia, New Jersey results highlight Republican Party’s divisions, problems;

Northern Va. drives McAuliffe win;

In G.O.P., a Campaign Takes Aim at Tea Party;

Huckabee calls for Republicans to fight back against conservative groups;

Conservative groups face attacks from Republicans over their motives, tactics;

The Tea Party and the GOP: From Rescue to Wreck;

The Obamacare sabotage campaign;

Obama: GOP ‘rooting’ for ObamaCare failure;

No truce for business groups, Tea Party;

GOP civil war rages in Alabama;

Chamber-backed Republican beats Tea Party candidate in Alabama race;

Business-backed Bradley Byrne wins in Alabama;

In Alabama Race, a Test of Business Efforts to Derail Tea Party;

Meet The 37 House Republicans Who Could Lose Their Jobs For Shutting Down The Government;

Michael Gerson: The GOP’s New Reality;

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I am a resident of N.Y.C., and a political independent. I hold two college degrees: SUNY Buffalo (BA) and University of Illinois (MA) as well as a Professional Certificate from NYU. I am a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve where I am still serving as a reserve commissioned Warrant Officer. I am member of the International Labor Communications Association, a member of the Iron Workers Union and a sometimes- freelance writer that has been published in some minor and professional venues.