How the tea party lost on Tuesday night

November 6, 2013

All in all, Tuesday was a lousy night for the tea party wing of the Republican Party.


(Julie Jacobson/ Associated Press)

Consider all that happened:

* Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a tea party-aligned Republican and social conservative, lost the Virginia governor's race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a flawed candidate against whom some Republicans were giddy about running at the beginning of the campaign.

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was the national Republican standout. He won a commanding victory in a heavily Democratic state. Christie is a center-right Republican, not a tea partier. His resounding win will no doubt stoke chatter in the GOP that the party needs to moderate its views and get behind more candidates like him. (Which would mean fewer tea party candidates.)

* E.W. Jackson, a controversial Republican who said it was "God’s plan to beget the Tea Party," lost his bid for lieutenant governor in Virginia.

* Bradley Byrne, a business-backed Republican, defeated Dean Young, a Christian conservative aligned with the tea party (national tea party groups largely refrained from backing him, though) in a House GOP runoff in Alabama. While Young attracted almost no national support, he rallied local tea party support and tapped into a palpable anger with federal government in the campaign.

The most noteworthy points are what happened to Cuccinelli versus what happened to Christie. Cuccinelli lost moderate voters by more than 18 points while Christie coasted to a historic win in a deep-blue state. No Republican had done as well as Christie did statewide in New Jersey since the 1980s. It will be hard for the party to interpret that as something other than a loud and clear call to move toward the politics espoused by Christie and away from what the tea party has argued for.

Winning is an awfully persuasive argument in politics -- perhaps the most persuasive argument.

To be clear, there were lots of factors at play Tuesday. Cuccinelli and Young were both outspoken social conservatives, a reality that clearly cost the former and may have cost the latter. Local issues mattered, and so did the effective campaigns against the tea party candidates. So no, not everything that went wrong for tea party candidates was a direct result of voters' desire to defy the movement.

Still, the overall pattern was not an encouraging one for the tea party. The movement remains a force in the GOP, and in Congress (see Cruz, Ted). But on Tuesday it had some of the wind knocked out of its sails.

Fixbits:

Democrat Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York.

Mike Duggan (D) will be Detroit's first white mayor in four decades.

Martin Walsh (D) is Boston's next mayor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gives Hillary Clinton a vote of confidence for 2016.

New Jersey adds the minimum wage to its state constitution.

Colorado voters approved a state marijuana tax.

Illinois appears set to become the 15th state to approve gay marriage.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has been diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer.

Cuccinelli's campaign blames national Republicans, and Buono's campaign blames her own party.

Must-reads:

"Book raises questions about N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s past" -- Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post

"Virginia, New Jersey results highlight Republican Party’s divisions, problems" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Christie Vaults to Front Ranks of G.O.P. Field for 2016" -- Kate Zernike and Jonathan Martin, New York Times

"11 places besides 'North Colorado' where activists want to secede from their state" -- Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post

"Democrats Seek Support for Bills to Offset Obamacare Woes" -- Kathleen Hunter, Bloomberg

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Chris Cillizza | November 5, 2013