It's possible for Republicans to win big this year even as the Tea Party drags them down
In his newest column, David Brooks makes a claim that is basically valid: Any Democrat who believes the Republican Party’s embrace of Tea Partyism will cost the GOP a big number of seats in this fall’s elections is wrong. His explanation for this is also basically valid: that with the economy stalled, swing voters are far more worried about registering their displeasure with the ruling Democrats than with voting against Tea Partyism.
But he’s wrong to suggest that association with the Tea Party movement hasn’t hurt individual Republican candidates in key races. Brooks writes:
In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman has opened up a significant lead on his Democratic opponent. In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul is way ahead, as is Marco Rubio in Florida. In Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk has a small lead, and Linda McMahon has pulled nearly even in Connecticut. Sharron Angle, a weak candidate, is basically tied with Harry Reid in Nevada.
Here Brooks falls into a trap I described yesterday: assuming that because Republican candidates are ahead (or, in Angle’s case, tied) in polls, it means the Tea Party hasn’t hurt them. The problem, of course, is that it is entirely possible for a candidate to win an election even if he or she is being dragged down by the Tea Party. And there’s evidence that this is exactly what’s happening in some races.
Paul is a perfect example. The story is not that he’s ahead of his Democratic foe, Jack Conway, by 7 points in the most recent poll; it’s that Paul isn’t ahead by a wider margin. Remember: We’re talking about an open seat Senate race in Kentucky — a conservative, deeply Obama-phobic state — in an unusually anti-Democratic year. Republicans have a huge margin for error in this race; they should be winning it by 15 to 20 points. Paul, because of his perceived extremism and kookiness, has taken a hit. But because of that ridiculously high GOP margin for error, it won’t be a big enough hit to lose. In a different, less conservative state, he’d be in more danger, just as he’d be in more danger in a different, less anti-Democratic year.
Brooks also totally misreads Angle’s poll numbers. Yes, she’s a terribly weak candidate. But so is Harry Reid! Has Brooks looked at Reid’s personal poll numbers in Nevada? They’re gruesome. Just about every major factor is lined up against Reid: his longtime incumbency, his status as the face of Senate Democrats, the horrible political climate for Democrats, the fact that Nevada is a purple state, and his own awful poll numbers. Against a generic Republican, he’d be trailing by double-digits now. As we showed earlier this year, incumbent senators with Reid’s poll numbers basically never win reelection. But Angle’s presence has pretty much eroded all of the GOP’s margin for error in Nevada, taking a race that a Republican should win easily and making it a tossup. It’s true that she might end up eking out a victory, but it will be more an indictment of her Tea Party ties than a testament to them.
McMahon, Kirk and Portman aren’t even worth getting into. They’re not Tea Party candidates; they’re simply Republicans running in an extremely favorable environment for their party. And Rubio comes with two asterisks: 1) he’s benefiting from a split Democratic base, with Charlie Crist running as an independent; and 2) he’s a far more mainstream-seeming candidate than Paul or Angle. That is to say, he’s not as tainted by the Tea Party because he doesn’t seem to embody its kookiness the way Angle and Paul do. He’s a glib, polished politician with a Tea Party ideology. Again, in a different year, that ideology might cause him problems; but this year, his own personal marketability will probably be enough to win him the benefit of the doubt.
Brooks is on more solid ground when he turns to the bigger picture and writes that the Tea Party movement “carries viruses that may infect the G.O.P. in the years ahead.” But while it’s true that the Tea Party movement won’t cost the Republicans a ton of races this year, it’s wrong to say that it won’t cost them some votes — maybe just enough to cost them two seats that will make the difference between a Senate majority and two more years (at least) in the minority.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
- Code Pink activist berates Obama at national security speech
- Cuomo: "Shame on us" if New York City elects Weiner
- Coburn calls questions about tornado aid "typical Washington B.S."
- Conspiracy theorists clash over London attack
- Voting is not a right
- Destroying the planet for record profits
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Pic of the day: Barack Obama at prom
- Anti-Islam backlash in London after machete attack
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Obama’s drone speech will probably be maddening
- Boehner: "Inconceivable" Obama didn't know about IRS targeting
- Obama to announce new effort to close Guantanamo Bay
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11