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Jun 22 2014

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Tea Party Threat to a Senate Republican Majority

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Making Perfect the Enemy of the Good...

Making Perfect the Enemy of the Good…

It is looking awfully good for Republicans right now.

The proverbial chickens have come home to roost for President Obama and Democrats, less than six months before the midterm elections. POTUS’ approval rating is at 40 percent, and that is about as good as it gets for POTUS;  it’s all down hill from there on individual issues.  Health care – 38 percent. Immigration – 38 percent. Ukraine – 31 percent. Bergdahl-terrorist swap – 31 percent. VA scandal – 29 percent. Budget deficit – 28 percent.

Stunningly, 54 percent stated that Obama can no longer lead and get the job done.

A political axiom states that when your opponent is self-destructing, simply get out of the way. And that might, in fact, be enough for Republicans. The current numbers do not take into account the full impact of a collapsing foreign policy, a stalled economy or the very real possibility of criminal misconduct at the IRS, or further Benghazi revelations. A further deterioration, even from these lows, can not be ruled out.

But somewhat like the Palestinians, Republicans never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Amid all the good fortune conferred by Democratic misdeeds of commission and omission, there remains a strain of conservative thinking that would rather shout than govern. That preaches liberty but practices orthodoxy. That remains deeply suspicious of power, while disruptively insisting upon it — an insidious faction of the Tea Party.

I say faction, because the Tea Party movement, writ large, is anything but the caricatures that have been painted of it since its founding in 2009. Constitutional government, federalism, balanced budgets and individual liberty are not radical concepts. And the Tea Party has fielded solid candidates. Senator Marco Rubio in Florida and Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, who have proven to be serious and capable legislators.

But the movement is not known or highlighted today by its successes, but rather by its spectacular failures; failures that have not only created controversy and urban legend, but effectively denied Republicans control of Congress, which would have materially helped the conservative cause.

To wit:

In wave election of 2010, Republicans took control of the House and picked up six Senate seats. An impressive showing, but it could have been so much more.

Tea Party challengers Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado and Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell in Delaware beat better known and more experienced GOP candidates in primaries, based in no small part on the energy of grass-roots Tea Party supporters, but predictably lost in the general election, as their flaws became known to the public at large, killing what could have been crucial gains for the GOP in the Senate.

2012 started as a potentially auspicious year for Republicans but ended in frustration, with the GOP losing two seats.  A key part of that reversal involved Tea Party activity in Indiana and Missouri.

The Tea Party knocked off Richard Lugar in the Indiana Senate primary, nominating instead, Richard Mourdock, whose comments on rape and pregnancy stirred deep controversy nationwide. What had been a locked seat for the GOP became a stunning net loss.  The same thing occurred in Missouri, where the GOP has one of its best pick up opportunities in years, against the unpopular Claire McCaskill. However, Todd Akin edged out a pro-business Republican and utterly threw the election away after his comments on “legitimate rape,” and his subsequent refusal to leave the race.

Worse, both Mourdock and Akin, both now out of the public eye have created an image problem for the GOP at large as a party that is uncaring and even hostile to women, patently untrue, but a narrative that has become part of the Democratic playbook.

Which brings us to 2014 – the third cycle where the Senate map favors the GOP.

The GOP needs six seats to cinch control of the Senate. There are seven “red” states with Democratic incumbents or retiring incumbents, where GOP candidates have an automatic advantage, particularly given the current political climate.   On the other side of the coin, there are two states where the GOP remains at risk; the open Senate seat in Georgia, where Sam Nunn’s daughter is vacuuming up gobs of cash and poses a formidable challenge, and Kentucky, where Mitch McConnell is going to go down to the wire against a well-funded opponent.

The margin of error then, is thus precariously thin.

Which makes the Tea Party relevant and menacing at the same time. Otherwise safe GOP seats in “red” states are preparing for primaries where energized but flawed Tea Party candidates are attempting to take down long-time Republican incumbents.

On Tuesday, Mississippi Republicans will select the GOP nominee for the November general election, choosing between experienced Senator Thad Cochran and Tea Party supported candidate Chris McDaniel. In this two-man runoff, McDaniel has gained traction is now leading in a majority of polls.

Should Cochran win, the seat is safe and the GOP need not be concerned further. However, if McDaniel wins, there is a rising tide of uncertainty about his prospects, given his controversial statements on Katrina relief, abortion and immigration. While Cochran currently holds a 17 point lead over Democratic nominee Travis Childers, McDaniels lead as the GOP nominee drops to just three points, potentially forcing the GOP to put resources in Mississippi, to hold a safe seat – resources that could otherwise be invested in expanding the field of contestable races.

The same holds true in Tennessee and Kansas, where Senators Lamar Alexander and Pat Roberts (respectively) face Tea Party challengers that could turn safe GOP seats into competitive general election races if the Tea Party candidate wins.

Alexander’s opponent, Joe Carr, has been, among other things, accused of plagiarism. Roberts’ opponent, Milton Wolf, a radiologist, thought it would be funny to post grisly x-ray injuries, with accompanying humor posts, on Facebook. His radiological practice is also under investigation for a price-fixing scheme.

These are “not ready for prime time” candidates. Their fever in the cause does not disqualify their obvious flaws in general election match ups where Democrats will do everything that is possible to maintain control of the Senate.

Lets play out a hypothetical. McDaniel wins the primary tomorrow and is the GOP nominee for Mississippi. The GOP picks up six seats in November, McConnell holds on,  but McDaniel loses and Nunn wins in Georgia.

The Senate is 51-49 if favor of Harry Reid.

Is this really the result the Tea Party wants?

It’s important to note that it is not the Tea Party’s ideas that are failing, but rather the troublingly high number of its 1st rank candidates that are not only snuffing out the opportunity for GOP victories, but are also staining the reputation of an organization committed to nothing more than the original vision of the Founders.

The good news for Republicans – as of this writing –  is that the Senate map is expanding, with seats in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan potentially in the mix. On the far end, as previously noted are seats in Virginia and Oregon.  Instead of a one seat majority, the GOP has the chance to run the table and have a five-seven seat cushion, which it will need in 2016 when the a majority of “blue” or “purple” state Republicans will be up for re-election.

Republican voters in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kansas should take this into account.

In the end there is these truths: there is no purpose in governance without principle. But there is no governance without winning.

 

 

 

 

 

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