Among the themes of second-guessing and deep regret that are emerging of rubble of last night's election is the thought that the Senate could be under the control of Republicans right now if weren't for their habit of running supremely unlikable candidates. It was bad enough that Mitt Romney was soundly defeated for the White House, but what hurts even more right now is that Republicans, who at one point had hoped for a sweep of both houses of Congress, actually lost ground in the upper chamber. Depending on your definition of a poachable, that makes as many seven races over the last two election cycles that could have been theirs for the taking.
In all seven of those seats, of course, a weak or unknown Democrat faced a polarizing, inexperienced candidate, who often owed their success to forces beyond the control of the central party leadership. Two of those seats are pinned on the same person—Linda McMahon—who has now lost two Connecticut Senate races after spending nearly $100,000,000 of her own money to knock off the establishment choice in the primary. Two years ago, Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell were boosted by the Tea Party, only to face embarrassing defeats in the general election. Then there's Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who couldn't keep their mouths shut about rape. That doesn't even count Scott Brown in Massachusetts or Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, decent candidates who failed to hold their ground in more Democratic areas.
Current Senators are shaking their heads in frustration when they realize what could have been—and what did them in. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put it bluntly, saying "We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.” John Cornyn stopped short of blaming the fringe candidates, but added that "we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party."
Over on MSNBC, where conservatives can be a little louder, the anger was not being held back. Steve Schmidt, who helped John McCain's campaign in 2008, called on party leaders to denounce people like Rush Limbaugh, who spout "extreme" stances and spout "nonsense" and then bring Republicans down with them. "Morning Joe" Scarborough piled on, angrily scolding those who would call anyone that takes a step toward the center a RINO (Republican In Name Only). "The verdict is in," he said on Wednesday morning. "You have cost us a majority of the United State Senate. Get out of the way!"
Losses like McMahon's or Akin's are being called "unforced errors," because it's clear that the trouble with the GOP didn't just lie with the imperfect campaign of Mitt Romney. The party is splitting along ideological lines the "Reagan Republicans," as Scarborough calls them, are losing their chance to save it. Or as he put it, "Lunacy is not a governing philosophy."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.