READER, leave us imagine that in 2010 you traded your job as a libertarian blogger at The Washington Independent for a job as an independent blogger at the Washington Post, a once-great metropolitan newspaper now recapitulating that metropolis' ontogeny in reverse (precapitulating?) by morphing into a fetid swamp. And by design or inclination you become that paper's de facto Teabagger expert. Or maybe it's just because you know the hundred members or so personally.
Any road, in 2010, in the rapidly-shrinking Rational world, the Teabag movement is already known for two things: phony claims of being a sui generis, grassroots, non-partisan movement, and getting coverage exponentially greater than its actual numbers. So of course your plan would be to act like you never heard any of this, because reporters are always the last to know. And, not coincidentally, to ride the well-financed wave of bullshit propelling the "movement" to the forefront of American political
But, small problem, you're caught in flagrante email saying nice things to other hip young up-and-coming political bloggers about their choice of eyewear and homosexual tendencies. [Note, reader, that at this point we have to assume that some sizable part of this story is true, else the way ahead is impassible and oer'flown with contrails.] This causes you to be "fired" by the Post. turned into a "liberal" hero by none other than Keith Olbermann, who would know, then "rehired" by the Post. Because of course it does.
And, just in time for the "historic" midterm Republican victory of 2010 to be attributed to the sui generis, grassroots, not-quite-as-non-partisan Teabag movement.
One problem remains: this is all still nonsense, at its core; no political observer whose memory or understanding goes back further than 2004 can possibly believe it, and no one with a half-assed current assessment of American politics can mistake the Teabag party for anything other than a cluster of boils. A Republican cluster of boils.
So you're stuck, right? You have, like Thurber, struggled painfully for an entire semester of Freshman biology trying to resolve what you see, or don't see, through a microscope into some sort of expected image and then, at the last minute, manage to produce a drawing of your own eyeball. Except that, by accident, good karma, or shrewd calculation, you've chosen to be a journalist. So it doesn't count.
In one of the 500 "both sides share the blame" columns that National Journal is required to run every day, Charlie Cook repeats the least useful "data point" about the Tea Party's role in dragging down the GOP.
In 2010, the GOP lost five of the seven Senate contests The Cook Political Report rated as toss-ups going into Election Day; in 2012, it lost eight of 10. When a party loses 13 of 17 toss-ups over two elections, it has a problem. In many cases, Republicans nominated horrifically flawed candidates who didn’t quite self-destruct but were too weak to win. In other cases, they nominated candidates who did self-destruct. And when these problematic candidates pulled the pin on the grenade, other GOP office-seekers in their states became collateral damage.
In 2010, yes, Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell blew elections that Republicans were on track to win. (The Nevada race that Angle lost was less of a sure thing—Harry Reid is underestimated as his enemies' peril. But we'll go with it.) In 2012, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin lost elections that other Republicans could have won, but Todd Akin was not endorsed by any major national or local Tea Party organization.Just the Republican primary voters of Missouri. And Rick Santorum. And Steve King. And Michele Bachmann. And David Barton, Jim DeMint, Phyllis Schlafly, Pete Sessions, Jim Jordan, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee…
Okay, so, on to that "eight of 10" number from 2012, from the final pre-election Cook report. Akin's race wasn't on that list—by election time, Cook rated the race as a "likely" Democratic win. Mourdock's race was on the list. But look at the other close races lost by Republicans: Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, Massachussetts, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Maine. In the first four, they nominated current or former Republican legislators, not Tea Party candidates. In Wisconsin, they nominated a former governor who defeated Tea Party candidates in the primary. In Connecticut, they nominated a multi-millionaire who ran to the left. And in Maine, they nominated a fairly centrist Republican who tried, and failed, to win a three-way race against a Democrat and an Independent supported by Democrats. As Ramesh Ponnuru keeps writing, most GOP Senate candidates, even in places like Texas and Montana, ran behind Mitt Romney.
Well, this seems to be our week to reanalyze the 2012 Senatorial races. Bit of interest at the beginning here, in how Cook's list of Tossups differs from Newt's list of Coula Shouldas (Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida), as the latter had no apparent interest in close races where Republicans had nominated anyone to the left of Dick Nixon, but, remember, Professor Gingrich is a licensed and compulsive fabulist.
Seven losses with no possible connection to the Teabag party? Well, Tommy Thompson is pretty much the definition of a mainstream Republican (like Paul Ryan isn't?), but he was running in a state already luxuriously pre-conditioned by Koch dealers. Maine, Massachussetts? Not exactly states where Teabagging has made sweeping inroads. Connecticut? Does Linda McMahon even count?
That leaves Montana and North Dakota, where Republicans ran seated House members, which ought to count for something, and Virginia, where they ran George Allen, who is a kook.
Of all those races only North Dakota was really close. So let's agree that, generally, Charlie Cook's post-election predictions are better than his pre-election ones.
The gaffe/Tea Party theory of Republican defeat is just too pat, too easy. George Allen didn't lose by 6 points because Loudon County independents got spooked about Todd Akin. Believing that lets Republicans put off any real questions about internal reform.
Flummery. With the possible exception of Warren/Brown, though I doubt it, more Americans knew "Todd Akin" as a Republican running for the Senate than any of the people on either of those lists. Ditto Richard Mourdock, although in truth Mourdock was already losing in Indiana when something triggered that sexual reverie of his. These guys dragged down the Republican brand, by being the Republican id, in public. They didn't rewrite other states' races, maybe, but they sure energized voters. Mostly Democratic voters.
Teabag candidates--again, assuming their existence arguendo--are shouty, unlikeable, and they roll around like loose ball bearings. They might win elections where that describes much of the electorate, and they might win elections by chance when they manage, like Mourdock or Akin, to beat marginally-saner candidates in the primary. And, well, and that's it. They aren't making any inroads. They might be holding some Republican office holders' feet to the fire, but they aren't doing much more than threatening a reduction in campaign war chests, aka retirement funds. Their numbers may be small--up from "imaginary"--but they're a serious problem nationally, and they're what's preventing "internal reform". That, and the fact that "Teabagger" is just another name for Red State wingnut.