The Tea Party and the 2012 election, part I.

Post-mortems on the 2012 election are everywhere on the right right now, in all kinds of different forms:

Analysts wonder why the internal polls that left conservatives confident of the outcome up until Tuesday night and Karl Rove’s televised meltdown about Ohio were so wrong, when every public poll aggregator (left, right, and non-aligned) predicted a secure win for President Obama.  No credible answers yet, but it’s a victory for the stat geeks.

Republican strategists wonder about how much of the blame they can put on the Romney campaign and Governor Mitt Romney’s own deficiencies.

Republican funders are wondering how all their hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions failed to produce any of the outcomes they were promised by consultants, Superpacs, and–of course–Karl Rove.

And, along with many others, I’ve been thinking about what this all means about the Tea Party and its influence, lack of influence, and/or perverse effects.

Remember, the Tea Party was heavily invested in the electoral process.  Almost immediately after its emergence in 2009, the Tea Party renamed and infused existing national groups, and created its own new national groups.   Tea Party organizers allowed their grassroots groups to atrophy and focused on the elections, claiming massive success in the 2010 Congressional contests.  What’s more, Republicans gained control of more state legislative bodies in 2010, which proved critical to drawing Congressional districts that Republicans could win even in less auspicious times.

In the Presidential campaign, Tea Party groups dogged the Republican presidential hopefuls, forcing them to articulate clear positions on issues that Tea Partiers cared about–and articulate them forcefully.  Although the Tea Party groups didn’t always agree on preferred candidates, all of the Republican hopefuls (except for the short-lived Jon Huntsman campaign) courted them, and Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum enjoyed moments in the sun before Governor Romney–every  Tea Partier’s last Republican choice–claimed the nomination.  And Romney himself went after the Tea Party vote, emphasizing anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-conciliation, anti-science (climate change) positions that were at odds with his relatively short political record.  Governor Romney picked Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate in a clear attempt to solidify his support among the more conservative wing of the Republican Party (read: Tea Party).

And Tea Party groups held the Republican Party to a strict anti-cooperation line in government, encouraging gridlock; they also supported challengers in Republican primaries.  Sometimes, the insurgent candidate lost–after pulling the incumbent to the right (see Orrin Hatch in Utah); sometimes, the incumbent retired rather than face a primary and return to a deadlocked Senate (see Olympia Snowe in Maine).

Most visibly, Tea Party supported insurgents defeated candidates favored by the Republican establishment in primaries in Texas (Ted Cruz beat David Dewhurst), Indiana (Richard Mourdock beat Dick Lugar), and Missouri (Todd Akin beat John Brunner and another Tea Partier, Sarah Steelman).

Ted Cruz is now a US senator, but so are Democrats Joe Donelly (Indiana) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) and independent Angus King (Maine).  Those are at least three senate seats Republicans had good reason to expect to win, but Democrats increased their margin in the Senate, taking advantage of opportunities the Tea Party helped supply.

After taking severe conservative positions in the primaries, Governor Romney tried to tack hard to the center during September, and made some gains, but every odd position he’d taken in the past was easily available on youtube.  Democrats were happy to provide the links.  In the last days of the campaign, it was President Obama who spoke about the Tea Party, which had become unwanted but unavoidable baggage for Mitt Romney.

The Tea Party’s success in the primaries forced Republican aspirants to toe some kind of harsh conservative line, one that was only trouble in the general election.  Republicans have yet to find a way to harness Tea Party energies and resources without imbibing the Tea–essentially, how to sell out their stalwarts.

At the moment, both Tea Partiers and the Republican regulars are frustrated–and angry.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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9 Responses to The Tea Party and the 2012 election, part I.

  1. Despite all the commentary, the Tea Party never lost anything.

    More than 30 Governorships are in Republican hands and the House is still stacked with 60+ Tea Party Representatives down from 65 elected in 2010. (It is the opinion of this writer that Mitt Romney was never a Tea Party Candidate).

    However, they did not gain anything either.

    For the Tea Party to be successful at the national level of politics, it will be necessary for the Tea Party to remove the establishment that currently occupies the seat of power in the GOP and replace them with Die Hard Tea Party activists. Once that is accomplished, candidates that hew the Tea Party line (Constitutional Conservativism) could be brought forth.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher.

    • Sure, but the Tea Party–whatever it stands for–has never polled more than 30 percent support nationally, and that support is heavily concentrated among older, whiter, citizens. Not a lot of electoral wins there.

  2. I absolutely agree with you Prof. Meyer.

    But, it is the Republican establishment (social conservatives, the old boy’s network) and their obtuse policies encompassing everything from immigration to birth control that is keeping the Republicans from breaking through to the majority of Americans.

    Identity politics is a 20th century invention and a no-win scenario for Republicans.

    The Tea Party concentrates on the needs of individuals, not specific groups. It is this lesson the base of the Republican Party needs to learn.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher.

  3. Jason, I disagree. Tea party candidates might state they are not concerned with social issues but they comment on them, nonetheless. Joe Walsh sealed his doom when he made comments that abortions are never needed to save a woman’s life. Murdock in Indiana stated a pregnancy caused by a rape was God’s will, making people wonder if the rape was God’s will. Bachman is against marriage for all and her arguments against gay marriage are biblical. That these candidates feel comfortable saying reprehensible statements in public with cameras on them means they are too comfortable with those out-dated and wrong-minded opinions on various social issues. You can say all you want about how the Tea Party “concentrates on the needs of individuals, not specific groups.” But their actions have proved otherwise.

    • Like I said, there is the Tea Party and a Republican establishment.

      No matter what both may say in public, they both were more inclined to be part of the Republican establishment than the Tea Party.

      I might comment on the behaviour of ants, but that does not make me an entomologist.

      As for the actions of the Tea Party, I believe they do not favour any one group, but the interests of all individuals. But, Since nothing has passed in the Democratic held Senate for over 2 years, we really don’t know do we?

      J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher.

  4. I can only judge on what I see members of the Tea Party do and say. It has been nothing but hate and hot air. I have yet to see them come up with a workable solution for anything. These people voted down a bill to help out-of-work veterans. But apparently you must not see all any of that north of the border.

    • Attacking me personally will not help you win a debate in the 21st century MS. Notes.

      If you had wished to prove anything with your postings, it is now lost. In this day of crisis, revolution and rebellion around the world, we need constructive debates.

      Unfortunately you have shown an immaturity that is all too pervasive in the Western world.

      I will not be replying to anything else you say Ms. Notes.

      • I think there’s a fair question on the table about Tea Party aims, but it’s a complicated one. The question is what about the Tea Party plans seems to protect the interest of all people (or all Americans?)? Notes… points out one position that seems antithetical to the public good.
        In assessing the intent of the Tea Party, the first problem is figuring out just who speaks for it. Tea Party Nation, for example, wants to shut the borders while FreedomWorks wants a guest worker program. Which one do you want to give the TP moniker? The second problem is figuring out just what policies are really good for *everyone* and not some special interest?

      • Jason, you have not shown one bit of proof that the Tea Party actually works for anything. Name something that this group has done in a positive manner for the United States. Your credibility was lost on me after your second comment showing that you know little or nothing about the rancor these people produced in our country. How would you when you live north of the border and do not see what these people do on a local level?

        I do not comment on Canadian politics because I do not get those reports, I do not live in the climate produced by your politicians and therefore it would be wrong for me to do so.

        What I am asking is how do you know what you claim to know? Show your proof.

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