How Much Did the Tea Party Really Help the GOP?

Measuring the efficacy of the grass-roots phenomenon

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Over the last year, the rise of the Tea Party has coincided with the electoral success of Republicans at the ballot box. This all culminated with the GOP's sweeping victory on Tuesday. But, as everyone knows, correlation does not imply causation. So what exactly does the GOP owe the Tea Party?

  • The Tea Party Drove Voters to the Polls, writes Michael Cooper at The New York Times: "The Tea Party victories by Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida underscored the extent to which Republicans and Democrats alike may have underestimated the power of the Tea Party, a loosely-affiliated, at times ill-defined, coalition of grass-roots libertarians and disaffected Republicans. In exit polls, four in 10 voters expressed support for the Tea Party Movement. And Mr. Paul called his win part of “a tea party tidal wave” in his victory speech."
  • I Disagree, writes James Joyner at Outside the Beltway:  "The problem with this analysis is that Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina would surely have gone Republican with a more traditional candidate.  And Colorado, which seems to be on the verge of electing a Republican Senator (the race is still too close to call definitively) would certainly have been more competitive." Ross Douthat adds: "In each case, the Tea Parties got the nominees they wanted, and in each case they went down to defeat. Meanwhile, more establishment-ish Republicans were cleaning up: Dan Coats won in Indiana, Rob Portman won in Ohio, Mark Kirk won in Illinois, and Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign in Alaska seems poised to keep her in the Senate."
  • Tea Party Isn't as Popular As You Think, writes Isiah Poole at Campaign for America's Future:

Yes, a number of "tea party" candidates were helpful in the Republican Party's success in taking control of the House of Representatives and narrowing the Democratic Party's majority in the Senate. But there's a difference between wide Tea Party "appeal" and wide disaffection with Democratic Party accomplishments. The former implies that these conservative extremists are winning the hearts and minds of voters, when what may actually be happening is that they are merely benefiting from a vacuum left by an ineffective, disunited Democratic Party.

  • People Are Missing the Point, the Tea Party Is Advancing the Conservative Agenda, writes David Weigel at Slate:
The GOP now has a powerful bloc, with  ready money from the Club for Growth and Tea Party Express, that can and will destroy any "Republican in Name Only" with the full knowledge that it could be handing the seat to Democrats. This ripples far beyond the races the Tea Party wins. As Will Bunch likes to point out, the biggest Tea Party win might have been Arizona, where the movement pushed John McCain right. The threat of a primary in 2012 is going to have a serious impact on Olympia Snowe's decision making, because she's seen that even obviously doomed candidates in blue states, like Christine O'Donnell, can win primaries... And what instrument do Democrats have to enforce ideological consistency like that?
  • Either Way, the Tea Party Will Kill GOP 2012 Chances, writes Ross Douthat at The New York Times: "Come 2012, there’s going to be an enormous appetite among Republican voters for someone who can actually beat Obama in a hard-fought general election campaign — and for all their victories last night, the Tea Parties still haven’t proven that their more polarizing candidates can win the hardest, most-contested and highest-profile races."
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