A third political party – Tea Party Shows It Is Force To Be Reckoned With

Christine O'DonnellSeptember 15, 2010

NPR’s Mara Liasson talks with David Greene about the role of the Tea Party movement heading into the midterms.

Copyright © 2010 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Melissa Block.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I’m David Greene.

The results are now in. Yesterday we saw the last big primary night heading into this fall’s midterm elections. And if there’s one takeaway from the candidates now heading into general election races, its this: the Tea Party movement is a force to be reckoned with.

In Delaware, Tea Party conservative Christine O’Donnell defeated Republican Mike Castle, a popular, long-time congressman. And the news today out of New Hampshire has Kelly Ayotte winning a very close Republican primary. She was not the Tea Party favorite, but she did have the endorsement of Sarah Palin. I’m quite confident that NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson can make sense of all of this for us. Thank you for being here Mara.

MARA LIASSON: I certainly hope so. I’ll try.

GREENE: Well, we’ll try.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: So, what happened in this New Hampshire Senate primary and what does it tell us about the role of the Tea Party movement as we crank things up and head into the November midterms?

LIASSON: Well, New Hampshire is an unusual case because the New Hampshire Republican primary electorate is already so libertarian, they already have a kind of Tea Party profile. So I don’t think the Tea Party effect there was so decisive. Ayotte was the establishment candidate, but she also, as you said, had Sarah Palin’s endorsement. Her opponent was the so-called Tea Party candidate.

But I think Delaware, the big upset in Delaware last night, really tells us how strong the Tea Party is. This was the first time that you had a Republican candidate and a Republican establishment really fight back. They didn’t ignore the Tea Party, they took Christine O’Donnell on. They called her a fraud. She still beat a very popular former governor of the state, Mike Castle. Republicans now say she can’t win the general election. That could change. But right now, Delaware is a rare example of what you might call the Tea Party backfiring on the Republicans.

GREENE: And Delaware, a rare case where the party was literally sending out robocalls, I mean, to trying to defeat one of their own in the primary.

LIASSON: That’s right.

GREENE: Let’s step back, if we can, and break down the story of the Tea Party that we’ve seen so far in all the Senate primaries.

LIASSON: Well, first of all, you have nine Tea Party backed candidates who’ve won nominations. Two forced Republicans out of the party completely, in Pennsylvania and in Florida. Two defeated sitting incumbent senators, in Utah and Alaska. There were six hotly contested primaries where Tea Party backed candidates won.

Now, the Tea Party is not one thing. I think it’s better to understand it as a way to conceive of the very fired up energy in the grassroots conservative base – all the way from fiscal conservatives and libertarians on one end to social conservatives on the other. Some of these candidates merely hitched a ride on the Tea Parties. They just allied themselves with the Tea Parties. Others of them were adopted by the Tea Parties. We saw that with Marco Rubio in Florida. He didn’t necessarily come out of the Tea Parties, but the Tea Parties learned about him and how conservative he was and they decided to back him.

GREENE: No real official office, no national spokesperson. I mean, still really an amorphous movement in a way.

LIASSON: No. It’s an amorphous movement. It’s decentralized by choice. But it does turn out votes. It raises money. But I think one of the most interesting things so far, it is not running third party candidates. So far it has stayed inside the tent of the Republican Party and provided a real source of energy for them and only in rare cases has it been divisive and potentially debilitating.

GREENE: Briefly, how many of these Tea Party candidates are likely to actually win in November and take Senate seats?

LIASSON: Well, all we can say now is where they are in the polls. And so far, none of these Tea Party candidates are behind, either they’re tied or a little bit ahead. So the Democrats’ predictions, which is that these candidates would be too far to the right to win a general election, have not come true. There have been some divisive primaries. Delaware is a good example. Maybe Delaware is the one case where it will really hurt in November. But so far, these Tea Party candidates are doing fine.

GREENE: So not necessarily the good news that the Democrats were hoping for, if some of these Tea Party candidates won and head into November.

LIASSON: No. But Delaware was definitely good news for the Democrats. It means that the Republicans have a much harder path to getting the 10 pickups they need to take the majority in the Senate. Democrats still have seven weeks to go. They have time to fire up their base. And they are trying very hard to make use of these Tea Party positions and use them against these candidates.

GREENE: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

GREENE: That’s NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Copyright © 2010 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Melissa Block.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I’m David Greene.

The results are now in. Yesterday we saw the last big primary night heading into this fall’s midterm elections. And if there’s one takeaway from the candidates now heading into general election races, its this: the Tea Party movement is a force to be reckoned with.

In Delaware, Tea Party conservative Christine O’Donnell defeated Republican Mike Castle, a popular, long-time congressman. And the news today out of New Hampshire has Kelly Ayotte winning a very close Republican primary. She was not the Tea Party favorite, but she did have the endorsement of Sarah Palin. I’m quite confident that NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson can make sense of all of this for us. Thank you for being here Mara.

MARA LIASSON: I certainly hope so. I’ll try.

GREENE: Well, we’ll try.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: So, what happened in this New Hampshire Senate primary and what does it tell us about the role of the Tea Party movement as we crank things up and head into the November midterms?

LIASSON: Well, New Hampshire is an unusual case because the New Hampshire Republican primary electorate is already so libertarian, they already have a kind of Tea Party profile. So I don’t think the Tea Party effect there was so decisive. Ayotte was the establishment candidate, but she also, as you said, had Sarah Palin’s endorsement. Her opponent was the so-called Tea Party candidate.

But I think Delaware, the big upset in Delaware last night, really tells us how strong the Tea Party is. This was the first time that you had a Republican candidate and a Republican establishment really fight back. They didn’t ignore the Tea Party, they took Christine O’Donnell on. They called her a fraud. She still beat a very popular former governor of the state, Mike Castle. Republicans now say she can’t win the general election. That could change. But right now, Delaware is a rare example of what you might call the Tea Party backfiring on the Republicans.

GREENE: And Delaware, a rare case where the party was literally sending out robocalls, I mean, to trying to defeat one of their own in the primary.

LIASSON: That’s right.

GREENE: Let’s step back, if we can, and break down the story of the Tea Party that we’ve seen so far in all the Senate primaries.

LIASSON: Well, first of all, you have nine Tea Party backed candidates who’ve won nominations. Two forced Republicans out of the party completely, in Pennsylvania and in Florida. Two defeated sitting incumbent senators, in Utah and Alaska. There were six hotly contested primaries where Tea Party backed candidates won.

Now, the Tea Party is not one thing. I think it’s better to understand it as a way to conceive of the very fired up energy in the grassroots conservative base – all the way from fiscal conservatives and libertarians on one end to social conservatives on the other. Some of these candidates merely hitched a ride on the Tea Parties. They just allied themselves with the Tea Parties. Others of them were adopted by the Tea Parties. We saw that with Marco Rubio in Florida. He didn’t necessarily come out of the Tea Parties, but the Tea Parties learned about him and how conservative he was and they decided to back him.

GREENE: No real official office, no national spokesperson. I mean, still really an amorphous movement in a way.

LIASSON: No. It’s an amorphous movement. It’s decentralized by choice. But it does turn out votes. It raises money. But I think one of the most interesting things so far, it is not running third party candidates. So far it has stayed inside the tent of the Republican Party and provided a real source of energy for them and only in rare cases has it been divisive and potentially debilitating.

GREENE: Briefly, how many of these Tea Party candidates are likely to actually win in November and take Senate seats?

LIASSON: Well, all we can say now is where they are in the polls. And so far, none of these Tea Party candidates are behind, either they’re tied or a little bit ahead. So the Democrats’ predictions, which is that these candidates would be too far to the right to win a general election, have not come true. There have been some divisive primaries. Delaware is a good example. Maybe Delaware is the one case where it will really hurt in November. But so far, these Tea Party candidates are doing fine.

GREENE: So not necessarily the good news that the Democrats were hoping for, if some of these Tea Party candidates won and head into November.

LIASSON: No. But Delaware was definitely good news for the Democrats. It means that the Republicans have a much harder path to getting the 10 pickups they need to take the majority in the Senate. Democrats still have seven weeks to go. They have time to fire up their base. And they are trying very hard to make use of these Tea Party positions and use them against these candidates.

GREENE: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

GREENE: That’s NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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