Reversing the Tea Party Curse

The GOP will never take back the Senate if the tea party keeps winning.

Editorial cartoon satirizing the tea party.

The GOP has to vanquish the tea party before it takes on Democratic Senate candidates.

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It took my beloved Boston Red Sox 86 years to get out from under the curse of the Bambino and win the World Series. How long will it take until the GOP breaks Christine’s Curse? It may be awhile, because in the last two federal election cycles the Republican Party has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Christine’s Curse refers to the spell that Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell cast upon the GOP in 2010. O’Donnell was the tea party candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat from Delaware who discussed her interest in witchcraft on national TV. The establishment GOP candidate was former Rep. Mike Castle, who would have been a strong general election candidate. But O’Donnell beat Castle in the primary. Her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, crushed her in November.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

O’Donnell wasn’t alone in 2010. Take Sharron Angle, the tea party candidate who ran against the vulnerable Harry Reid. Reid’s successful re-election is a metaphor for the GOP’s failure to take the Senate. The Democratic Senate majority leader was unpopular and very vulnerable. It was one thing for Angle, like many Nevadans, to oppose gun control. But she took the issue to the depths of hell when she suggested that conservatives might have to resort to “Second Amendment solutions” if they didn’t get their way. It’s one thing to take the football home when you’re losing. But it’s a whole other thing to bring a gun to the game if you don’t get your way.

In 2010, the GOP had the wind at its back. But while their colleagues routed Democrats and took control of the House, Senate Republicans actually lost seats when the economy was awful, Obamacare was under attack and the president was fighting for his life.

2012 was pretty much a rerun of 2010 for the Republicans. The party had another great chance to win the Senate. Republican Senate candidates Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdoch of Indiana reprised the roles that made O’Donnell and Angle infamous. In both cases, the 2012 GOP candidates made offensive and incendiary statements about rape that outraged Americans and ended GOP hopes of winning the Senate. 

Fast forward to today, when the campaign for control of the U.S. Senate has begun in earnest. Conservative groups have already spent millions of dollars on TV attack ads against vulnerable Senate Democrats up for re-election this year. This week, former President Bill Clinton travels to Kentucky to work his campaign magic for Secretary of State Alison Grimes, who is a threat to unseat Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Party of Tea, formerly known as the GOP, has an opening to take the Senate this year, but it will find a way to screw it up just like it did in 2010 and 2012. An elephant never forgets, but the GOP has already forgotten what it learned from its ill-fated efforts in 2010 and 2012.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the tea party.]

The GOP has to vanquish the tea party before it takes on Democratic Senate candidates. Yes, there are several vulnerable Democratic seats, but the GOP will have to win them all and not lose any of their own to take the Senate back. There are at least two states where GOP Senate seats are in jeopardy. A tea party primary has already put McConnell in hot water in Kentucky and the bitter primary in Georgia among tea party extremists gives Michelle Nunn, the daughter of longtime Sen. Sam Nunn, an opening for Democrats to pick up another GOP seat in a state which is slowly changing from red to purple.

The GOP also hopes to take advantage of President Obama’s weak job approval ratings. But in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king. The president’s approval rating is currently in the 40 percent range, but the approval rating for congressional Republicans is in the 20s.

The Red Sox had the Ruth curse to contend with until the team won in 2004 for the first time since 1918. The GOP will need to overcome Christine’s curse, which has haunted the party since 2010. Can Republicans reverse the curse? The GOP is bewitched, bothered and bewildered so I wouldn’t bet on it.