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Making Sense of the Fall 2010 Primaries

“Instead of Tea Party scores big, the story of this election should be either “Tea Party promises more than it delivers”, or “T-Party wins a little, and loses a lot of cash for its investors.”

It’s not easy to make sense out of the incoherence of yesterday’s primaries – especially when media tools are busy trying to tell us there is a clear narrative.

The story many are busy writing focuses on the startling fact that “insurgent” right wingers are defeating “mainstream” Republicans, and that Palin is the new Kingmaker.   Where have these people been for the last two decades?  They did not pay attention in 1988, when Robertson defeated Bush Sr. in Iowa, or in the mid-1990’s as all the moderate Republicans started to go extinct, or over the past ten years the Republican party has dominated in nearly every aspect of national public policy making (regardless of the head count of nominal Democrats in any legislature seems to be, the policies are capitalist Red, not even a pale socialist Blue), or in the past two years, where Rove and the Republican right have been readying a well-thought out, corporately-financed strategy to win control of the Senate AND House by focusing heavily on ten to fifteen winnable states (please look up American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which are more electorally dangerous than Palin.

Instead of Tea Party scores big, the story of this election should be either “Tea Party promises more than it delivers”, or “T-Party wins a little, and loses a lot of cash for its investors.”

Look at the facts.  Despite the Fox-fed mania for the supposed broad appeal of the white, well-to-do-dominated Tea Party, they won one clear primary:

  • In the Delaware Senate race (a state which has a population of 885,122 and which is the corporate-shell incorporation home of over 50% of publicly traded corporations in the US).
  • In New Hampshire, the mainstream Republican party candidate Ayotte) was endorsed by Palin and some tea baggers, and was ahead by about 1700 votes (as of 2 PM today) of the other candidate (Lamontagne), also endorsed by some tea-baggers – hardly a landslide, mandate, much less a clear picture of what conservatives in that state want.
  • In New York, Paladino won because Lazio is so universally disliked in the state that I think any Red Sox player could have defeated him.
  • In Maryland former Governor Ehrlich defeated Palin’s choice (Brian Murphy) and will face the incumbent Maryland Democratic Governor Brian O’Malley.
  • In Wisconsin, Ron Johnson won against the “insurgent” Republican.
  • In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the drama was in the Democratic races, having little to do with Tea baggers.

In fact, polls release in the past few days by Fox News and in the past few months and days by the New York Times/CBS News clearly show that only a minority of people identify as Tea party supporters, while a larger number have an unfavorable view of this manufactured movement.

  • In a CBS/NYT poll conducted 9/10-9/14/2010, 19% identified as supporting the Tea Party, 63% did not – of these supporters, 54% are Republicans, 38% independents, and 10% Democrats.  In this poll 29% viewed the Tea Party unfavorably. (;lst;1)
  • In the Fox News Poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics on 9/3/2010, 39% held a favorable view of the Tea Party but 35% had an unfavorable view, 19% couldn’t say and 7% had not heard of them.  (

A very interesting article by Katie Zernike and Megan Thee-Benan for the NY Times on April 14, 2010 discussed the composition of the Tea Party movement, identifying its members as tending to be “Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.”  In a poll on which the article was based, 18% of those polled identified as supporters of the Tea Party.  More  than half of these folks said they believed the policies of the Administration favor poor people, while 25% said the Obama Administrations policies favored Black people.  The Times reporters concluded that “Tea Party supporters’ fierce animosity toward Washington, and the president in particular, is rooted in deep pessimism about the direction of the country and the conviction that the policies of the Obama administration are disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than the middle class or the rich”.

The clear conclusion:  there is a bitter minority of voters that feel (rightly or wrongly) aggrieved, even though they are financially well off and comfortable.   That it happens to be more male, white and over 45 is perhaps evidence that the vaunted white male backlash of the 1990’s has continued to crystallize into the Dick-Armey-organized tea Party base.  It is a minority that can be influential to candidacies and particular elections in particular places.  But it does not deserve the amazing credit that is given to it, Palin, Beck and others.  That credit, I reserve for Rove, Ed Gillespie and the other grassroots mavens on the conservative right who are raising millions, reserving weeks of ad buys in October and preparing to mobilize voters in key districts while we progressives are not exactly doing the same.

In truth there are parts of this disgruntled electorate ready for the taking by any political party smart enough to address the rank and file — as real people with real concerns.  Instead of focusing on the cartoon characters who are trying to manipulate these folks (Palin, Beck, Boehner, Gingrich, D’Souza, Murdoch etc), it would be smart for Democrats to actually start to address what is worrying them.  And what is worrying them is their insecurity (economic and personal), their white anxiety, and the fear of losing the status and privileges they believed were their birthrights.

Candidly, between now and November, only some of these issues can be tackled – the economic anxiety and racism have to be challenged with concrete rebuttals to the nutty ideas the right is proposing.  I thought the President did a better job delivering a clear and positive message on the economic policy at his recent speech in Ohio, and I was thrilled he took on Boehner and the Republican right.  But he can’t take on the racism of the Tea Party, it has to be the other guys – Clinton, Biden, Rendell, labor leaders, and others among the progressive movement.

What can defeat the Tea Party is the bottom line common sense of ordinary people — which even the most biased pollsters cannot hide.  The Fox News poll also asked people if they believed that “President Obama has truly made an effort to work with the Republican Party” — 52% overall said yes (including 24% of Republicans and 49% of Independents).  When pollsters asked if “Republican leaders in Washington had truly made an effort to work with President Obama” 58% overall said they had not (including 43% of Republicans and 65% of Independents).

What will also defeat the Tea Party right and the “mainstream” Republican right in November is the re-energized participation of younger voters, single-women voters, pro-immigrant voters, middle class men and women who are not fooled by fear-mongerers, and the still large number of independent and democratically minded folks who still believe there is some integrity to democracy and governance for ordinary people and not only corporate interests to rally behind the more progressive candidate in each district.


  1. G12rugger says:

    What is also needed is integrity and balance in the media. As you stated, the Tea Party won ONE clear primary. Yet, every time the news is on, you hear of the “Tea Party’s takeover”. All the while, twenty-nine of the thirty-three Victory Fund endorsed candidates won their party’s nomination or election outright; I have yet to hear any mention of that feat by the LGBT community in mainstream media. It’s not only the political parties and their concoctions attempting to pander to the fears and irrationalities of the general population, it is also the media (not just Fox News, other outlets are guilty as well) that participates in what is becoming an increasingly fast decline in democracy and governance.

  2. G12rugger says:

    Guess you kind of already made that point previously…

    “Progressive media is essential to the task of fighting the ideas of the Right. In fact, progressive media and journalism have been inspired in the past thirty years. With hardly any mainstream financing or support, we have a vigorous and active blogsphere, brilliant researchers who ferret out information on so many atrocities (Box Turtle Bulletin, Media Matters), brave outlets (Free Speech TV, Grit TV, Democracy Now, Public News Service), excellent radio and TV journalists (many of them outstanding women like Amy Goodman, Laura Flanders, Rachel Maddow), and a loosely knit set of networks among radio, TV and web based outlets. What we do not have is a satellite distributing progressive thoughts 24/7. What we lack are deep pocketed ideologically committed funder (like Murdoch) who hire a political operative (like Ailes) to create the negative and destructive consciousness that opposes progressivism.”

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