Has the Tea Party Done Anything for the GOP?

With the exception of Scott Brown's miraculous Senate race victory in Massachusetts -- and even there, one can question the premise -- has the Tea Party movement really done anything to help the Republican Party this cycle?

I'll grant that the TP seems to have focused attention on the problem of spending, but then again, Democratic moderates and independents were already concerned about spending.

Indeed, a case can be made that, in the states and races where the Tea Party has been active, just the opposite has happened: the Republican candidate has been weakened, and the Democratic candidate has been strengthened.

In Kentucky, Tea Party avatar Rand Paul's strict construction libertarianism has suddenly made the Senate race competitive, according to the last polls.

In Florida, there are two explanations for Marco Rubio's rise: 1) He was his own guy, very popular already, was already capitalizing on discontent with Charlie Crist, was quietly being aided by Jeb Bush's fundraising network, and received an assist from the Tea Party movement at county conventions. 2) The Tea Party made Marco Rubio.  In either case, Charlie Crist bolted from the party, and Rubio has less of a chance to win the general election now than he did -- meaning that a Democrat or an independent who will caucus with the Democrats might be able to pick up a Republican held seat.

What's healthier for the GOP? Focused anti-Obama energy, or focused anti-GOP-establishment energy?

The Tea Party movement has helped to make the touch of the party in Washington toxic, even when the party has recruited otherwise excellent ideological and uncorrectable candidates whose only sin is that they were identified as viable by the party and encouraged to run.  Even the hint of GOP backing has sent the GOP into paroxysms in places like Washington State.

Collaterally, as one of my Twitter followers points out, it has helped to rid the party of its RINOs, which I suppose might be a good thing, but then again, depending upon your view of electoral politics, it might not.

I don't think the TPs energized the GOP base any more than it was already energized. The TP, indeed, is actually distributing that energy to regions of political space that might be harmful to the party itself. Democrats now have a foil, just as Republicans have Obama.

I had assumed that the TP movement would be beneficial to the party in the short term and harm it in the long term, but today, it is hard to see where the short-term benefits are. Even Scott Brown is tacking back to the center and distancing himself from the TP movement.

Running a TP candidate in Nevada has given Harry Reid a chance to actually keep his Senate seat. How does that help the GOP in any iteration of any theory?

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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