What’s Left: The End of the Tea Party



Ben Krempley

While most people would say the recent elections involved very few important races, they did provide a possible way to measure the American people’s opinion on the recent debacle that was the government shutdown. While drama was limited on election night, these results may have given us a glimpse into next year’s midterm elections and the presidential contest in three years. I think there are three major takeaways from these elections: Democrats were correct, Chris Christie’s case for 2016 and a possible shift in the political leanings of big businesses.

If you listen to left-leaning news outlets such as MSNBC, the government shutdown hasn’t “ensured electoral setbacks [for Republicans] next year, but they’ve certainly laid the groundwork for defeat.” However, according to conservative political commentator Ben Ferguson (CNN), President Obama’s unwillingness to negotiate with House Republicans during the shutdown “is probably going to hurt those running for reelection that are Democrats.”  Now, looking at the election results from last Tuesday, it appears that the Democratic narrative has held true. In Virginia, which narrowly went to President Obama in 2012 but has enjoyed a solid economic recovery under the leadership of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, the population is about as evenly divided between red and blue as possible. Additionally, Virginia was one of the states most directly impacted by the government shutdown. For these reasons, Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe’s victory certainly shows the negative impact of the government shutdown. This effect is even more profound considering that his primary opponent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, framed this election as a referendum on Obamacare. It looks like the people have spoken in favor of Obamacare and against the government shutdown, Mr. Cuccinelli.

The second important insight in this election regards New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s chances to emerge from the Republican primary in 2016. President Obama’s decisive victory in New Jersey was a microcosm of his national successes: he created a coalition of racial minorities, women and young voters. Whoever is running in 2016 for the Democratic Party would probably use a similar blueprint in hopes of winning the White House, which is why exit poll results from New Jersey could be potentially troublesome for Democrats in 2016.

Christie took 57 percent of the female vote, 51 percent of the Hispanic vote, 21percent of the black vote (Obama won 96 percent), and 49 percent of the 19-28 demographic (Obama won 60 percent of that block nationwide in 2012). Even though Christie got these numbers in his home state where he is extremely popular, if he could keep even a fraction of these gains in a nationwide election he could win in a landslide. If Republicans are smart enough to ignore their Tea Party base, 2016 could be a real dogfight between Hillary and him (I’m making a few assumptions here).

Far and away the most interesting development from these elections was how big corporations’ money affected the outcome. Even more interesting was that these donations were designed to defeat the Tea Party, even if that meant funding a Democrat over a Republican. In the Virginia Governor’s race, McAuliffe out-fundraised Cuccinelli four times over. The large majority of this money came from big businesses located outside the state. The lack of big-money support for conservative Republicans is a trend apparent in other elections across the U.S. on Tuesday, as leading business groups favor party moderates or Democrats over the conservatives who are driving confrontation in Washington. In the most conservative district in Alabama, Tea Party candidate Dean Young lost to establishment Republican Bradley Byrne.

Byrne had three times the funding that Young had due in large part to funding from the business community political action groups and individual business donors. If these trends continue, the long-term viability of the Tea Party would be in jeopardy. As much as Tea Partiers claim they are a grassroots movement, they cannot survive without corporate funding. Overall, the trends seem to suggest that the time of the Tea Party may be up and, though Chris Christie’s success in New Jersey this past week were hopeful signs for Republicans, 2016 could very likely be a blue revolution.

Contact Ben Krempley at [email protected].