The Tea Party's National Ambitions Are Finished

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It should be a warning sign when your case for why polls are underestimating your party's strength is that fewer people will actually vote than pollsters project. If your party's fate depends on fewer Americans participating in our democracy, perhaps you have a popularity problem.

It's not just that Mitt Romney lost, as did several Republican Senate candidates who should have won easily. The election was a victory for all kinds of big city liberal values: Weed was legalized. So was gay marriage. The rape apologist candidates lost. The first openly gay woman was elected to the Senate. The first black president was reelected -- on a platform of Obamacare, immigration, and raising taxes.

On the Republican side, the most energetic part of the party is also the most opposed to these ideals. While the Tea Party won Republicans a majority in the House in 2010, election night 2012 showed the party's message is toxic at the national and statewide levels. While house races are local in character, Senate and presidential races are held statewide. And that is where the Tea Party did worst last night. Tea Partier Richard Mourdock picked off moderate Republican Sen. Dick Lugar in the Indiana primary, and then lost the election. Todd Akin proved he really was too conservative for Missouri, as Sen. Claire McCaskill claimed in primary ads intended to trick Republican voters into picking him as her opponent. Three other Tea Partying Senate candidates met the same fate in 2010. But while Tea Party's passionate activist model works best locally, sometimes that even fails at the congressional level when the race gets lots of attention -- Tea Partier Allen West lost in Florida, and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann held onto her seat by about 3,000 votes in Minnesota.

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Some Republicans want to blame Romney for being a bad candidate. "JUST A THOUGHT...Next time, GOP might want to think about nominating a conservative," radio host Laura Ingraham tweeted. A "GOP operative" told Politico's Jonathan Martin a few days ago, "A Romney loss would be solely based on class and personality: middle class, affable and emotional former governor would be up by 5." But Romney was the best candidate Republicans could have possibly had. The people Romney ran against -- Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain -- would have been destroyed in a national election. Many better potential candidates decided not to run, in part because they couldn't win the Republican primary. Tim Pawlenty wasn't willing to say what the Tea Party wanted, and he dropped out. Jon Huntsman wouldn't either, and he lost badly. Romney couldn't stop running in the Republican primary until the first presidential debate October 3. He was the only candidate with decent credentials who was willing to say all the things the Tea Party wanted to hear in order to be elected. 

That came back to bite him throughout the campaign. He got no bounce from the Republican National Convention, which was entirely built around what was essentially a Tea Party inside joke -- Obama's "you didn't build that" semi-gaffe. He defeated Rick Perry by adopting the language of the most extreme immigration opponents: "self-deportation." He was caught on tape riffing on a Tea Party meme about the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes. And, in the very last week of the campaign, he was haunted by his ridiculous Tea Party pander at a June 2011 debate, when he suggested FEMA should be dissolved, its powers returned to the states and the private sector.

The demographics look bad for Republicans. Late-stage poll denialism argued that there's no way young people, Latinos, and black people would be a bigger portion of the electorate compared to 2008. Of blacks and Latinos, House Speaker John Boehner said in August, "These groups have been hit the hardest. They may not show up and vote for our candidate but I’d suggest to you they won’t show up and vote for the president either." (Boehner was half right.) At The Washington Examiner, Michael Barone predicted Romney would win Ohio because the Democratic electorate would be smaller and social conservatives showed more "intensity." (Obama won Ohio.) Battleground Watch blared the headline "The Folly of David Axelrod’s Turnout Model" on October 29, saying the idea whites would only be 72 percent of the electorate was nuts. (Whites were 72 percent of the electorate.)

But the Tea Party isn't just scary to minorities, it's scary to enough white people for Obama to win. It's crazy to young people, who will slowly replace the more-Republican old people. Outside of the South, Democrats are quite competitive among whites. But if the polls can no longer be denied, there's denial about what the vote means. According to Politico's Mike Allen, an anonymous Republican Senate aide doesn't sound like he realizes he lost: "It's a status quo election. House reelected, Senate status quo, Obama re-elected = reset. We'll start 2011 over again and hope the President engages." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said something similar in a statement: "To the extent [Obama] wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way." One of the most glaring example came from Laura Ingraham, who tweeted, "'Tonight u voted for action, not politics as usual.' --Barack Obama. PULEEZE...amnesty, tax increases, climate change legislation." Yes! That, aside from climate change, was Obama's platform. And he won!

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.