The Tea Party turned out to be a double-edged sword for Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections. The Republican establishment was able to glom on to the movement’s grass roots enthusiasm. But several comically unqualified Tea Party candidates ruined a chance for Republicans to take control of the Senate.
Tea Party’s gift to the GOP
Tea Party activism energized a Republican base despondent over its drubbing in the 2008 election. The movement’s anger was co-opted and packaged into an effective anti-Democratic force. However, when that activist anger allowed questionable characters to vault over electable candidates in certain Republican primaries, hopes for a more complete Republican victory were dashed.
Tea Party pros and cons
The Tea Party helped Republicans gain 60 Congressional seats, the biggest swing by a major party in the House since 1948. The morning after the election, Republicans held 46 seats in the Senate. A Washington state seat, still undecided, was expected to remain Democratic. If Tea Party candidate Joe Miller (whose bodyguards once handcuffed a journalist) in Alaska prevails over write-in Lisa Murkowski, Republicans could hold 47 seats. But if not for the Tea Party, the GOP could have had 50 seats.
Unelectable Tea Party candidates
The Tea Party got the candidates it wanted in key Senate races. These candidates, deemed unelectable by the Republican establishment, performed as expected. In Colorado incumbent Democratic senator Michael Bennet defeated Tea Party candidate Ken Buck. Buck made headlines last summer when he answered a question about why people should vote for him by saying “Because I don’t wear high heels.” In Nevada, embattled Democrat Harry Reid easily defeated Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle. Angle is noted for saying she was anointed by God to run for the Senate, among many other outrageous remarks. Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell lost the race for a Delaware Senate seat to Chris Coons by simply out-Sarah-Palining Sarah Palin.