Will Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and the Tea Partiers who nominated them keep costing Republicans in 2012, at least in the Senate? That’s what Molly Ball argues based on her reporting. Here’s how it goes:
First, national Republicans in 2010 attempted to secure nominations for seemingly strong general election candidates such as Charles Crist in Florida and Mike Castle in Delaware in 2010. Then, when these candidates were defeated in primaries, the backlash wasn’t just against moderates; it was also against national interference in state politics. Consequently, national Republicans have backed off in 2012 – which has then hurt their recruiting efforts, since they are no longer able to promise strong general election candidates assistance in getting through primaries.
That’s what Ball reports. I’d add that even if national Republicans were still going to try to get involved in primary elections, potential candidates would presumably be quite wary of that help, given how useless it appeared to be in several states in 2010.
The thing to underline here is that this stuff matters quite a bit. In the House, what tends to be overwhelmingly important is simply majority control. But in the Senate, ever seat counts. Individual Senators have far more ability to affect outcomes than do individual Members of the House. And a 55 Senator majority is in much better shape, say, than a 51 Senator majority.
Of course, conservatives certainly did get something for their primary challenges; not only did they get some Senators they really liked, such as Rand Paul and Mike Lee, but the strategy of fighting in primaries has certainly pushed every Republican Member of Congress to be extra careful to avoid charges of RINOism. In policy outcomes, it’s not easy to judge whether a few extra Senators are worth that trade. Either way, however, it’s important to remember that it is a trade-off, with costs and benefits – some of which, as we see, spin out well into the future.