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Losing ground

"Losing ground" Continued...

Both Akin and Mourdock allowed the debate over abortion to become a debate about rape. Their defeats now make it easier for future pro-abortion Supreme Court nominees to win confirmation in the Senate.

But the reason for the loss of winnable Senate seats for Republicans extends beyond the abortion issue. The war within the larger Republican Party tent between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party likely cost Republicans a chance to close on Senate Democrats.

In Indiana, ousted Republican Lugar refused to campaign for Mourdock, even predicting that Mourdock would “achieve little as a legislator.” Democrats rode to victory exploiting this divide between disaffected Lugar supporters and Tea Party Republicans.

This is the second election cycle where this clash between traditional Republicans and the Tea Party has hurt the GOP. The Tea Party strategy of electing far right candidates is not working in moderate states, and the insistence to field such candidates in those states ignores reality and damages the ultimate goal of controlling the Senate.

Going forward the Tea Party will have to decide if it wants to continue to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. If their goal is to endure short-term losses in an effort to purge these moderate states of any insufficiently conservative elements, then, based on voter demographics, they should prepare for more election cycles that bring primary wins and general election defeats.

Republicans also have to improve a candidate selection process that tapped two candidates that had lost previous Senate races. Linda McMahon lost in Connecticut for the second election cycle in a row despite spending a combined $97 million of her own money in the two races, and Virginian George Allen lost his bid to regain the Senate seat he lost six years ago.

There will be some conservative stars in the new Senate, most notably Ted Cruz from Texas, a former debate champion who combines a powerful limited-government message with a Latino heritage. His grassroots, Tea Party-fueled candidacy worked because Texas is a right-of-center state. He probably would not have gotten elected in a state like Maine.

But Cruz and other conservatives will face a congressional session where Democrats will enjoy an even greater control of the Senate, which means it will be harder for Republicans to slow down President Barack Obama’s big government agenda and impossible to stop the entrenchment of Obamacare. Former President Bill Clinton faced a Republican Congress that forced the two parties to work together on economic issues. Obama will not have that same incentive.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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