The Agenda

Quick Thought Re: Tea Party Candidates

Like many of you, I’ve been baffled by the fact that Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell became the faces of the Tea Party during this cycle as opposed to, say, Ron Johnson or Nikki Haley. As Rich Lowry wrote last week, Johnson

has as good a case for being a face of the Tea Party as just about anyone this year — he was urged to run after two speeches at Tea Party rallies, he’s a political outsider and businessman, he campaigns frankly on repealing Obamacare and limiting government, he speaks passionately about American exceptionalism, and he’s on the verge of unseating a liberal lion of the Senate. Yet the national media hasn’t paid much attention to him, which I suspect has something to do with how impressive he is as a candidate. 

When I asked various television producers and reporters about Christine O’Donnell’s prominence in 2010 coverage, I was invariably told that though she was far behind, she wouldn’t have won her primary without Sarah Palin’s endorsement. This is also true of Nikki Haley, who was overshadowed by O’Donnell. Haley went from fourth to first place in South Carolina’s Republican gubernatorial primary, and her rise was fueled by Palin’s endorsement as well as an energetic, scrappy campaign. And her run also involved a frisson of scandal. But Haley is a woman of South Asian origin and a budget wonk. The fact that she was so warmly embraced by Tea Partiers in South Carolina complicated the by now familiar narrative of Tea Partiers as race-obsessed Luddites. 

And so it goes. 

Many on the left are cheering the defeat of Sharron Angle and what looks like the defeat of Joe Miller. But here’s the thing: the faces that will emerge from this election will be those of a slew of reform-minded Republican governors elected in Midwestern swing states. Pro-growth suburban moderates won a decent numbers of seats in some of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, and came close in many more. At least some of the candidates who ran and came close this year will run again in 2012, The Senate map that year will be far redder than this year’s map, in which a slew of hilariously weak and ill-prepared candidates came close to winning states in deep blue states. 

Here’s hoping that the newly-elected conservatives, in Congress and in the state capitals, are equal to the enormously difficult task ahead of them. 

Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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