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How The Tea Party Helped Obama Defeat the GOP

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The election is over. Many around the country are thrilled beyond belief, thinking finally there will be a magical coming together of the Congress, while many others are pulling non-perishable items into their doomsday shelters to prepare for the socialist revolution coming to take their guns, religion and freedom of speech away. Both sides are somewhat deluded, yet the people who are waking up with the biggest political hangover this morning are the Republican elite. I wrote back in 2009 that enveloping the Tea Party into their tent and using them for their brash, outlandish form of enthusiasm was going to bite them in the end and it certainly did.

The Tea Party was the main engine of the 2010 red wave into the Congress and across various state-bound races, but while it looked great on a local level, the Tea Party extremism failed to capture the Senate in 2010 and caused the Republicans to fail once again in 2012. Not only that, but some of the main firebrands in the Tea Party caucus woke up the day after the election without a job, kicked to the curb by voters as quickly as they were voted in:

Joe Walsh: (Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Allen West, Joe Walsh – Gone.

Richard Murdock, Todd Akin – Denied.

These were some key races and should have helped the Republicans take the Senate in a year when most people had completely written off the chance of the Democrats retaining control. Not only did it stay blue, but the Dems picked up seats. The Republicans can try to navigate the waters of blame and convince themselves it was everything from hurricane Sandy to not being able to connect with Latino voters (both of which were certainly factors), but in the end, the control of the Senate was lost to them because they were unable and unwilling to stand up to the extreme wings of the Tea Party, which is now forever linked to their own so-called Big Tent.

The country has always been and will continue to be a fiscally conservative, socially liberal base. It might not look like it all the time, but that is where the center of the population really is. The trick is to figure out how far you can push the voter away from either side. The Democrats need to justify to their side the spending that is continually beyond our means, while the Republicans have to defend extreme and unheard-of social restrictions. Once you push that line too far for either topic, no matter what party that voter is affiliated with, they will not cast their vote your way.

This time around the Republicans had the momentum in terms of the economy. We are still slowly recovering from the terrible collapse in 2008 and it truly has not been as fast as many would like, although most economists agree there are very limited ways to blame the limited recovery on Obama. Yet, instead of sticking to the economy in the last two years, they pressed some of the most restrictive and denigrating social legislation all over the country, thinking the 2010 wave gave them a social mandate to rewrite the country according to their social-religious code.

That was a serious mistake and they paid the price this time around.

Will we see a more moderate Republican party in the coming months and years? Likely some will tone it down. I doubt the anti-abortion voting block will shift too much, but the anti-gay marriage group will likely admit the writing on the wall: all four ballot measures going towards equality; the first time that has ever happened. If they can pull the plug on that social issue, they might just pull back some of the people who were turned off by their social agenda, but I think we’ll just have to wait until 2014. These things happen in waves and a blue wave might be hovering over the political horizon.

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About Luke Goldstein

A writer, movie junkie and political nerd. Basically anything that tells a good story is enthralling to me.
  • Dr Dreadful

    You’re right that the US is a fundamentally conservative country, and the two-party system reinforces that. From my European perspective, the “liberal” Democrats are at best centrist, but usually they’re just more moderately conservative than the Republicans. Yes, there are socialists and social democrats within the Democratic Party, and extreme social conservatives and libertarians within the Republican Party, but while some of their views are sometimes listened to, on the whole they usually find themselves relegated to a dark corner of the big tent.

    Trying to please everyone pretty much forces both major parties to pursue a middle path. The mistake the GOP made this time around was in misjudging where the middle was. Specifically, they forgot the rule of thumb that the people who are yelling the loudest are generally the ones on the fringes, not in the middle.

  • http://www.lukegoldstein.com Luke Goldstein

    Dr. Dreadful, well made point. I would like to think the Republican party will start pulling itself back from the fringes and learn to once again legislate from the center-right area, but some of the first responses from the leadership has been anything but hopeful on that front. Some of it is definitely blustering on their part, trying to save face in the light of a fairly one-sided election, but there is a delusion underneath that tells them they only lost because people didn’t really understand their point, not that their point was wrong all along.

    Time will certainly tell.

  • Dr Dreadful

    there is a delusion underneath that tells them they only lost because people didn’t really understand their point

    True, I fear. Glenn did a good analysis of this in his article published alongside yours today. Go check it out.

  • Igor

    Yeah, the republican articles I’ve read don’t see that they have to change. IMO, even republicans didn’t like Romney (he got the nomination grudgingly) so why would anyone else?

  • http://www.lukegoldstein.com Luke Goldstein

    Igor, that’s how I saw it as well. The Republicans were never thrilled about Romney as their choice, but he was far and away the most palatable and give them the best chance of winning. Yet, likely even back in the primary season, they knew it was going to be a fight to get any one of those candidates elected President. Each one was farther to the right than the next, which made them more and more unelectable by the general public.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Thing is, they genuinely don’t think they’re wrong. Look at The Obnoxious American’s last few BC articles, for instance. Look at enough conservative blogs and op-eds and speeches and you’ll find this is a recurring theme. Conservatives Know they are Right: anyone with a differing opinion is either immature, naive (a favourite conservative descriptor for non-conservatives), delusional, brainwashed or in denial; and any non-conservative president or government is automatically incompetent and a disaster.

    Therefore, from their perspective, the reason they lost this election – or indeed any election – can’t possibly be because of their platform. It has to be because those who didn’t vote for them either bought into left-wing media bias or wanted free stuff from the government.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    The sad thing is, you’re right. Thou Shalt Not Question conservative dogma…because they Just Know they are right, and that’s all the proof they need.

    I’ve got a pet theory – which has holes in it that I can see, but I still suspect something’s there – that those who are of such a mindset, who are able to reject out-of-hand what you and I feel to be obvious to any objective observer, are more apt to hold prejudicial viewpoints.

    By “prejudicial viewpoint” I am not referring to racism – for racism in this definition would be one possible result of a prejudicial viewpoint just as psychosis is one possible result of psychology. I am not referring to a level of intellectual or emotional quotients, nor am I comfortable with the idea that this is something from nature rather than nurture…and we’ve probably all got it to some extent.

    But I suspect it is when this prejudicial viewpoint is strong that it allows a perfectly intelligent and reasonable man to ignore the obvious, to dismiss all the empirical evidence. I believe that’s what allows religious conservatives to truly believe that evolution is false, that allows atheist conservatives to believe that AGW is wrong. I believe this is why only 6% of scientists are Republican.

    As I said, there’s lots and lots of holes in this proposition, and I’m sure it’s been explored before and much more professionally so. But I still think there’s something there.

  • Igor

    It’s time to re-read Eric Hoffers 1951 classic, “The True Believer”:

    “…in order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.”