Today, a lot of people will ask, “Did the Tea Party ruin the GOP’s chances of taking the Senate?” I don’t think the question can be answered with a clear yes or no. In cases where Tea Party candidates were able to pivot successfully into a general-election environment, we found success. Folks like Rubio, Paul and Toomey were able to convince the electorate that they were capable of governing.
Unfortunately, that is something that other Tea Party candidates, such as Angle and O’Donnell just weren’t able to achieve. The lesson is that you can absolutely be a principled conservative in a “purple” or a “blue” state and win elections, but being principled is not enough; a candidate must also be skilled enough to create a coalition that goes beyond ideology.
The other thing to remember is that this was not about turnout. People — mostly Democrats — will make the case that this election had the outcome it did because a depressed Democratic base stayed home while a Republican base turned out in droves. But compare it to the previous midterm, 2006: 36 percent of voters were Republican and 38 percent were Democrats. In 2010, 36 percent of voters were Republican and 36 percent were Democrats. A slight drop-off, but not enough to explain one of the most historic waves ever to wash GOPers into the House. This really came down to independents. This wasn’t about tactics, it was about broad persuasion across the country.
In 2006, Republicans lost independents 39 to 57, an 18-point deficit. In 2010, Republicans won independents 55 to 39, a 16-point advantage. That’s the swing where wave elections are won and lost. And it is that swing that handed the House to the Republicans last night.