Tea Party Loses Strength: Is the GOP Culling Itself of Radicalism?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This week and last week have seen a few Tea Partyists facing off with opponents in the Republican midterm primaries, and the outcome of these could be more important than other GOP face-offs. Every defeat of a Tea Party candidate could be a small step toward defeating Democratic competitors — and here’s why.

Why Tea Party Candidates May Hurt Midterm Chances

A liberal midterm victory seems particularly unlikely at present; FiveThirtyEight continues to predict a Republican win over Democrats — who are disadvantaged by the party’s typically low voter turnout rate in midterm elections and by President Barack Obama’s bad approval ratings. On top of that, The Washington Post’s “Election Lab” has fairly consistently maintained an over 80 percent chance (82 percent as of Wednesday) that the Senate will be taken by Republicans. But nothing is certain still; even if Democrats’ outlook isn’t good at the moment, there are still some that believe the party may scrape by if a few key states are lost.

The Tea Party might be one extra sign to keep an eye on in judging the Congressional weather for one simple reason: People don’t like them. Not all people, of course, but based on polling numbers, the Tea Party is considerably less well-thought-of these days within the GOP. According to Gallup in May of this year, support for the Tea Party had fallen to 41 percent within the Republican party and 22 percent nationwide. Predictably, conservative Republicans are more likely to support the Tea Party, while moderate/liberal Republicans, Independents, and conservative Democrats are all less likely to support them.

If states have a close race, the non-Tea Party GOP option might be slightly more likely to draw in votes from Independents, or less conservative Republicans, especially if a state is a swing state.

Kansas

Kansas saw Incumbent Senator Pat Roberts take out Tea Party aligned Milton Wolf — the right wing cousin of President Barack Obama — in the GOP primaries Tuesday. Wolf targeted Roberts living situation specifically, claiming that the Washington Senator was not a true Kansas resident. Ultimately, Wolf could not compete with Roberts, who had the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign while Wolf was backed by the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express, the Senate Conservative Fund, and the Madison Project, according to CNN. The race was not exactly neck and neck, but Wolf’s 41 percent of the vote wasn’t so far from Roberts 48 percent. According to The Wall Street Journal, Roberts called fighting within the Republican party a poor use of members time and effort, saying that, “We cannot afford a fractured party. The stakes are too high.”

Tennessee

Republican eyes in Tennessee are watching Senator Lamar Alexander fight to retain his position in the party against state legislator Joe Carr. The Hill calls Wolf the “Tea Party’s last best hope for taking down an incumbent this cycle,” and notes that Carr is considered a weaker opponent. Both Carr and Wolf have been financially at a disadvantage against bettered funded opponents, and Carr has done worse even than Wolf on that front. Alexander has raised over $6.6. million compared to Carr’s $1.1 million, according to The New York Times. Carr has been most successful with critiques of Alexander’s old immigration stance back in 2013, which had been soft on amnesty, at least compared to far right viewpoints.

Mississippi

In Mississippi, Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel is still looking to push Senator Thad Cochran out of the race even after having lost the primary as of June 24. Now, he’s challenging the results, which showed 7,667 votes in favor of the incumbent senator. According to Politico, McDaniel’s attorney Mitch Tyner said that 15,000 voters cast ballots that were ineligible. Here’s where it gets interesting. “We anticipate that after they review the challenge, they’ll see Chris McDaniel clearly won the Republican vote in the runoff,” said Tyner according to Politico. The key word there is Republican – because McDaniel is suggesting that Democrats were the ones to push the vote the other way by casting ballots they should not have been given.

Even if the results are unlikely to be reversed, it’s an interesting claim given our discussion of Tea Party popularity among all but the more conservative members of the GOP. It also reflects rather poorly on party unity between far right conservatives and the general Republican party. That’s hardly a new concern, and has been listed as a potentially exploitable weakness within the GOP before now. However, that said, Mississippi is a solid red state without too much risk of a Democrat swooping in and taking advantage of party disunity, so it’s unlikely to be the one in the Senate race to pushes Democrats into a majority win this midterm.

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