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The House/Senate split and the Tea Party paradox

By E.J. Dionne

There are still races to be decided, but it is now almost certain that while the House will be in Republican hands -- and by a very significant margin -- the Senate will remain Democratic. This will mark the first time that voters have rendered a split House/Senate verdict since 1980. To find another such split, you have to go all the way back to 1910.

Why did this happen? In part, it was simply the makeup of the Senate seats up this year. The class on the ballot Tuesday was last elected in 2004, a very good Republican year. There was a shortage of Democratic seats, and thus a shortage of Republican targets. Indeed, at the height of President Obama's popularity, Democrats thought they might pick up Senate seats this year.

But Republicans also hurt themselves by the candidates they chose. The obvious case is Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. Had the Republicans nominated popular moderate Rep. Mike Castle, he would almost certainly have won. Instead, victory went to Democrat Chris Coons. Linda McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, had many vulnerabilities -- meaning that Republicans could not take advantage of the far less significant vulnerabilities of State Attorney General Dick Blumenthal. The Colorado Senate race hasn't been called yet, but Tea Party candidate Ken Buck and incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet are very close, and Bennet's comeback in the polls was fueled by a reaction among suburban voters to Buck's extreme views. And then there's Nevada. The Post has called the race for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and what's quite clear is that Reid would have had a far tougher time against a garden variety Republican opponent. The extreme Sharron Angle kept Reid's chances alive and may even help him keep his seat.

Thus the Tea Party paradox.

The fact that Tuesday's electorate is far more conservative than the last midterm electorate in 2006 is a sign of how mobilized the right was this year, and the Tea Party had something to do with that. According to the exit polls, moderates outnumbered conservatives by almost 5-to-3 in the 2006 electorate. This year, moderates and conservatives were close to even as a share of the electorate, with conservatives having a slight edge.

Yet the Tea Party severely weakened the Republicans in this year's Senate races. It made the difficult task of taking over the Senate impossible.

Now if you think of power in Washington, it's better to hold a majority in the House than the Senate. The majority actually runs the House and can get its bills through. The phrase "Senate control" is very nearly an oxymoron. As we all know, 41 Senators can pretty much block anything, and individual Senators wield enormous power.

Still, the apparatus of the Senate, including most importantly committee chairmanships and the bulk of committee staffs, will remain in Democratic hands. The result is not simply divided government but a divided Congress. If you thought things were complicated over the last two years (think of the health-care bill), imagine what things will look like after Jan. 3, 2011. It's no wonder that we have had a situation of this kind only twice in a century.

By E.J. Dionne  | November 3, 2010; 1:00 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Comments

It could have been much worse. Thank you to the extremists for keeping the Senate in the hands of the Democrats. Now the Tea Party can start the real battle: between themselves and the Republicans. If the Tea Party were a real party they would become the minor irritation that they truly are, and the Republican leadership's first order of business will be to try to put them in their place. Will they sit quietly and follow orders, or will the real fight begin?

Posted by: gposner | November 3, 2010 1:43 AM | Report abuse

You're missing a very major point. Tea Partiers aren't Republicans. They don't like Republicans very much, actually, considering them as betrayers to conservative values. Little things like the ramping up of the federal budget under Bush really annoyed them. Quadrupling federal spending under Obama got them out to the ballot box.

The Tea Party can live with Republicans who move back from their non-conservative, spendthrift ways. They can live with Republicans who move back from the disaster of social conservatism. Those Republicans who just want to claim the title--Mike Castle, for instance--will go down, even if it costs a seat in the Senate. Why, after all, elect a so-called Republican who behaves like a drunken sailor on payday, that is, like a Democrat?

You and Cohen might actually profit by a road trip out beyond the beltway.

Posted by: jfb1138 | November 3, 2010 1:50 AM | Report abuse

jfb1138:
"You're missing a very major point. Tea Partiers aren't Republicans. They don't like Republicans very much, actually"

Maybe, but I think in the end they will bow their heads and vote with the bloc like good little Republicans.

"The Tea Party can live with Republicans who move back from their non-conservative, spendthrift ways."

There hasn't been one of those in at least 30 years.

Posted by: presto668 | November 3, 2010 2:07 AM | Report abuse

gposner wrote:

"Now the Tea Party can start the real battle: between themselves and the Republicans."

Dare I say that you are misunderstanding a basic fact of the US two party system. Due to the winner-takes all and electoral college systems no third party can establish itself except on the ruins of one of the two parties.

There is no Teapary as such, only a faction of the Republican party. The voters who got on that express or bandwagon are not voting for a party other than the Republican party. They are also the same voters who traditionally vote Republican.

What this election has shown, as did the 2008 election, is the split between urban and rural areas in America. The Teapublicans absolutely rule in what used to be farming areas that are now either ex-urbs or resort areas. The demographics of age and culture also play a role, but the key to the next election will be the redistricting that takes place to take account of the 2010 census.

I am no expert on these matters but my subjective feel is that the large concentrations of population will remain democratic while the sparcely settled areas will remain Republican. The proportion of power this lends the Republican party should be secure. There T-par-T candidates are nothing but a distraction.

Chris Brown in Hamburg

Posted by: chrisbrown12 | November 3, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

The Tea Party is the right wing of the Republican Party. This is a Karl Rove get out the base election like 2000 and 2004. Then it was gays, now it is $. No new people came out to vote. The tea party folks will end up as unhappy as the christian right. Suckers!

Posted by: tgarahan | November 3, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

"You're missing a very major point. Tea Partiers aren't Republicans. They don't like Republicans very much, actually"

Of course they are Republicans. They voted for Republican candidates, didn't they? They will continue to vote for Teapublican candidates in the future or until their three-corner hats wear out.

What this election has shown is that the electorate is split more than anything between urban and rural areas. The Republicans (whether they identify with the TparT faction or not) are concentrated in the ex-urbs and "farming" areas. Thus the main question for the next elections will be the demographic shifts that have been measured by the census.

Chris Brown in Hamburg

Posted by: chrisbrown12 | November 3, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully Democrats get the message. It is not business as usual. If democrats ignore the people who put them in office the voters stay home. So the next time Democrats get a chance they need to remember if you promise a public option you had better put it in a bill and vote yes. Next time bail out Main Street instead of Wall Street and if they had done that this time Wall Street would not have had the money to put the Tea Baggers in office. So just a reminder to the Democrats who still have a job-give more tax cuts to the rich and you lose whatever base you have left.

Posted by: SanchosR | November 3, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Bring out the veto pen Mr. President. Be as cooperative as they were when the Dems had overwhelming majorities in both the house and senate. Show them how to cooperate they same way the party of no showed us. Let them not pass a single thing they want.

Posted by: letemhaveit | November 3, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

"You're missing a very major point. Tea Partiers aren't Republicans."

Then why did they run as "Republicans" in the races? Is it so they could get elected easier than running as Independents? I guess the silver lining is that they'll all (Tea Partiers and Repubs) vote in a bloc, and this block will be tied to corporate interests, so things really won't change much at all. Except that the economy will get worse and income inequality will increase. (And the Dems aren't much better, by the way.)

Posted by: ezcheese81 | November 3, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Republicans are saying they'll cut the deficit and cut taxes. Good luck with that-since when does two minus two equal four?

Posted by: newsraptor | November 3, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

After having attended tea party events, I must correct some misgivings about the movement. The group is mixed, with mostly disenchanted republicans and many worried democrats. What worries them is the profligate spending of our government, coupled with the idiocy of passing legislation before it is read.

How do they vote? a. For the lesser of the two evils, based on economic promises and constitutional adherence. Party membership "counts" as a non-sequitur. If a Democrat Senator said he would vote for the SS lock box, he would get their vote. (Why did all the Democrat Senators vote against it?)

I listen to people who tell me that we are modern, smarter than the generations before them - - yet we allow the congress to put us into a debt that is impossible to pay? What is smart about that? If a family went into great debt and kept spending, would we call them "smart?"

The politicians have played the citizens for fools while they have paid off enough followers (name them yourself) to get the votes to stay in office so they can maintain their fiscal insanity. Cleverly, they tell their followers that the other party is the enemy. Let's look at the balance sheet again: we are $800 billion in debt to China and our government is $13 TRILLION in debt. The unfunded liability for SS and Medicare is $107 TRILLION! Congress' answer: more spending, while taxing and regulating the rich and the jobs out of the country! Brilliant!

Thomas Jefferson wrote that one generation should not burden the next with their debts. We have gone generations beyond our next.

The Constitution forbids the giving titles of nobility - but our politicians act the role without the title.

Party does not matter. We need to bring our government back into fiscal line and stop telling investments and jobs that they are better off in another country.

Posted by: SteveinLaPalma | November 3, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

As per usual, Dionne is mistaken. Congress was divided for most of Bush 43's first two years, as well as for Reagan's first six years.

Posted by: thebump | November 3, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

"Linda McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, had many vulnerabilities -- meaning that Republicans could not take advantage of the far less significant vulnerabilities of State Attorney General Dick Blumenthal." So, let me understand: repeatedly lying about one's military srevice is "far less signifcant" that running a legal albeit seamy business. Seems like "too close to call" at the very least.

Posted by: willdd | November 3, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

"Linda McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, had many vulnerabilities -- meaning that Republicans could not take advantage of the far less significant vulnerabilities of State Attorney General Dick Blumenthal." So, let me understand: repeatedly lying about one's military srevice is "far less signifcant" than running a legal albeit seamy business. Seems like "too close to call" at the very least.

Posted by: willdd | November 3, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Wait until 2012. 20+ Dem incumbent senators are up for re-election, including FL ND PA OH MS and more. Ben Nelson in NE seems very vulnerable. Hard to predict 2 years out but I don't see Dems in control of the senate afterwards.

Posted by: keepandbear | November 3, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

You're missing a very major point. Tea Partiers aren't Republicans. They don't like Republicans very much, actually, considering them as betrayers to conservative values. Little things like the ramping up of the federal budget under Bush really annoyed them. Quadrupling federal spending under Obama got them out to the ballot box.

The Tea Party can live with Republicans who move back from their non-conservative, spendthrift ways. They can live with Republicans who move back from the disaster of social conservatism. Those Republicans who just want to claim the title--Mike Castle, for instance--will go down, even if it costs a seat in the Senate. Why, after all, elect a so-called Republican who behaves like a drunken sailor on payday, that is, like a Democrat?

You and Cohen might actually profit by a road trip out beyond the beltway.

Posted by: jfb1138 | November 3, 2010 1:50 AM | Report abuse


That's a hoot.

What you little tantrum tossers do is vote Republican, and the GOP takes your vote, uses it as they like, and lets you pitch your hissy fits. You want to cost yourselves any effectiveness while making gestures against your Mike Castles? Be my guest.

Posted by: Bridge3263 | November 3, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

The point Dionne fails to address is that the Tea Party was wildly successful in its overarching mission. It culled the GOP field of "moderates" (read: spineless pocket liners). The fact that their candidates were weak this time means nothing. While they wanted to defeat the Dems, of course, they succeeded in threatening wishy-washy Republicans at the primary level. GOP members of the next congress do not want to become targets, so they will likely shift to the right, even if they normally would not be inclined to do so. Better yet, by failing to take the senate, the GOP can go hog wild with tax and spending cuts and still blame Reid and Obama for their failures.

Posted by: NNevada | November 3, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

The Tea Party cannot resolve the problems of the country. No is not a policy that can be implemented. You cannot simultaneously slash taxes on the uber rich and balance the budget. An obvious contradiction.

To really balance the budget, you would have to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan entirely and right away, reduce the military budget by around 10%, and strictly means test Social Security and Medicare for eligibility. But that would take some major compromise with the Democrats. Gridlock will not let that occur, and gridlock is coming.

They will not go quietly into the night, meaning in all likelihood they will stand only for obstructionism. And very strongly so.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | November 3, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Congress was also split between a Democratic House and Republican Senate from December 1931 to March 1933. To be fair to Dionne's historical point, the November 1930 elections had returned narrow Republican majorities for both houses of Congress, but between November 1930 and the convening of the new Congress in December 1931 (yes 13 months later, thanks to the old lame duck sessions), Democrats won enough special elections to take control of the House of Representatives.

Posted by: mgiese1 | November 3, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

jfb1138 wrote:
...Quadrupling federal spending under Obama got them out to the ballot box...
************************************************
You REALLY need to learn basic math skills.

The Bush budget for 2009 was $3.1 trillion.
The Obama budget for 2010 was $3.6 trillion, not $12.4 trillion (according to your figuring). Considering President Obama had to increase stimulus spending to prevent the "next Great Depression" that Bush's policies had us heading toward, I think he did a pretty good job.

Posted by: lgaide | November 3, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I have a question for the teaparty members, because most of you seems to be on some sort of goverment entities.

Granny and Grandpa....Are you aware of the GOP plans on tackling Social Security by privatizing it or taking out Social Security Disability all together? Those commercials coming in from special interest groups blaming any Dem for job loss (when most job lost came from Chambers shipping jobs overseas)
Donahue already said it is the new deal outsourcing jobs


Harry Reid
Don't be giving no GOP advice on how to win in 2012...tell that saddle-back church looking Chuck Todd that you don't have any advice on how people like Scott Brown can keep his seat come 2012....The Hispanics took you over the top, not the Irish! So you should be trying to help them with legalizing immigration, instead of telling CHUCK TODD HOW SCOTT BROWN COULD KEEP HIS SEAT

THE REAL LOSER IS MSNBC - WITH THEIR TWO HEADED MONSTER - NO NEED FOR ME TO WATCH RACHAEL OR KEITH

SENIOR CITIZEN WHITES - MAKE SURE YOU KEEP UP WITH WHETHER THE HOUSE WILL TAKE UP RYAN'S BILL AND PRIVATIZED SOCIAL SECURITY

OBAMA - IF YOU AGREE WITH RYAN HOPEFULLY WE COULD START IMPEACHMENT, MAYBE YOU NEED TO LIGHT UP A JOINT AND GET THAT SMILING LEAD OUT YOUR BUTT....

YOUR SMILES WON NO ELECTION....

YOU COULD HAD DONE MORE FOR ALEXI THAN TAKING HIM TO A DINER IN CHICAGO...

YOUR HCR DIDN'T GO FAR ENOUGH..AND INSTEAD OF CREATING JOBS...YOU JUST POURED ON PEOPLE ARE ANGRY AND IT UNDERSTANDABLE...

I TOLD MY OLD MAN YOU WASN'T READY, THAT'S WHY A LOT OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN HOMES BROKE UP....BLACK WOMEN WENT FOR HILLARY,

Posted by: danders5000 | November 3, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure that by next week Republicans will solve every problem.... unemployment, mortgage crisis, war in Afghanistan, deficit spending. (oh, wait, they caused all the above!)

Posted by: bozhogg | November 3, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

"Linda McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, had many vulnerabilities -- meaning that Republicans could not take advantage of the far less significant vulnerabilities of State Attorney General Dick Blumenthal." So, let me understand: repeatedly lying about one's military srevice is "far less signifcant" that running a legal albeit seamy business. Seems like "too close to call" at the very least.

Posted by: willdd

*********************************************************************************

You obviously don't live in CT. McMahon is bad news and we were right to pocket the $50 million in ad revenue and send her back to Stamford so Blumenthal can continue to serve the people of CT.

Posted by: theobserver4 | November 3, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

You really have to hand it to the Republican party. They are political geniuses. To spend eight years in power in which you take a budget surplus, and through tax cuts for the wealthy, two wars that were not funded, a Medicare perscription drug benefit that was not paid for and lax regulation of the economy, you bring the nation to the brink of a Second Great Depression. Then when the Democrats take power and do the unpopulr things that need to be done in order to avoid a MAJOR economic catastrophe (i.e. TARP - although this was Bush, the economic stimulus - least we forgot, at the very least this saved many states form either having to make drastic cuts or raise taxes, bail-out the auto-industry - you really think allowing GM and Chrysler to go bankrupt in the middle of a major economic crisis is smart? and the Wallstreet overhaul)they pin this all on the Democrats and gain the political points for doing so.

It truly is amazing. But you have got to give them credit. They caused the mess, let someone else fix it and get credit for doing NOTHING!!

Posted by: smith6 | November 3, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Today the tea party brought out their mascot owl who squawked Angle... who! O'Donnell...who!

Posted by: whocares666 | November 3, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I think it's hilarious to see people dismissing the Tea Party as a bunch of ignoramuses who will bow their heads dutifully to politics as usual. The Tea Party made significant inroads against the political establishment, be it Democrat or Republican, in less than one election cycle. The Tea Party is a lot more organized than its critics would like to acknowledge. They have not seen anything yet.

Posted by: ttj1 | November 3, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Read comments here by SteveinLaPalma and NNevada and you will get an idea of what's going on...

Posted by: ttj1 | November 3, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

OK, so if the tea party is culling the moderates from Republican ranks, that makes the party more extreme, and less attractive to independents. That wasn't a problem this time, because independents wanted anybody but Democrats, but in the long run, you won't have throw the bums out as the momentum. When there is an even playing field, being more extreme is going to be a handicap, not an asset.

Posted by: JoeT1 | November 3, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

The Tea Party won't bolt the Republicans in 2012.
The left wing of the Dems won't bolt the Dem party in 2012.
Centrist Northeastern Republicans and moderate Dems will bolt both parties in 2012 behind independent Michael Bloomberg, who will need to get out of a bankrupt New York.

Electoral College results:
285 Palin
155 Bloomberg
98 Obama

Bloomberg can't hurt Palin in the southern states (with more electoral votes after the 2010 census) or Rocky Mt. states, but he'll do better than Obama in the northeast and far west, including bankrupt California. Obama and Bloomberg will split the anti-Palin vote in the Midwest allowing Palin to expand her Electoral College southern and Rocky Mt. base by picking up a few midwestern Electoral College votes needed to push her over the top.

That scenario is what keeps Obama awake at night.
Why?
History:
1980 - Anderson helped Reagan defeat Pres. Carter
1992 - Ross Perot helped Clinton defeat Pres. George Bush
1912 - Woodrow Wilson beat Pres. Taft with "Bull Moose" Party help from Teddy Roosevelt

In over 110 years, no elected President (Gerald Ford was't elected) standing for re-election has been defeated without a strong third party candidate, with the one exception of Franklin Roosevelt beating Herbert Hoover in 1932.

When a third party made a strong showing, the third party didn't win. The out of power non-presidential party won. Dems in 1912 and 1992 and Republicans in 1980.

Sarah Palin knows her history. She's worked hard to keep the Tea Party movement working inside the Republican Party instead of bolting to become a third party for a reason.

Bloomberg won't be able to resist the call to the save the moderates of both parties, if it looks like Palin will win the Republican primaries. Look what Crist, Murkowski and Spector did. They left like rats to try to save themselves after losses to conservatives. Moderate business oriented Dems (a/k/a Wall Street) will also dump Obama to back one of their own - Bloomberg. Pro business and social issues light will be their mantra.

Establishment Republicans and Dem strategists attack Sarah Palin for these historical reasons. She knows exactly how the animal she is hunting has behaved for over 100 years and so do the people running both the Dem and Republican parties.

As Casey Stengel said: "You could look it up." Apparently, Governor Palin has followed Mr. Stengel's advice.

What am I saying? Everyone knows she's just a dimwit who couldn't understand this plan, if you explained it ten times. She's probably never heard of Anderson, Perot or Teddy Roosevelt.
Right?
Wanna Bet?

Posted by: jfv123 | November 3, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

The American electorate has the attention span of a 6 month old baby, so by next month, next summer, or next year, it could all be on its ear again with a whole new set of fears and villains. http://wp.me/pNmlT-wV

Posted by: dh1976 | November 4, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

The voters have told us that they’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. But their madness has ironically guaranteed that they will get more of exactly what they profess to despise http://wp.me/pNmlT-xa

Posted by: dh1976 | November 4, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

to all,

we TEA PARTY folks are NOT Republicans.

instead we are an loosely organized (we TP folks call our movement : "The DISORGANIZATION") group of CONSERVATIVES, EX-union "rank & file" members, surbanites, rural area residents, senior citizens, Independents & a lot of other folks, who cannot stomach the DIMocRAT Party anymore.

what we have in common is:
1. distrust of "the ruling class" & self-appointed "elitists",
2. hatred of excessive taxation,
3. dislike of government bureaucrats & federal "regulators"
AND
4. a desire to return to CONSTITUTIONAL ( read: LIMITED) GOVERMENT.

frankly, we voted GOP this time because we no longer TRUST the DIMocRATS to protect our LIBERTY.
IF the Republicans choose to:
1. try to "dismiss us as unimportant" (as the DIMocRAT "leadership" did),
2. decide to "compromise with" BHO/DIMocRATS
OR
3. fail to heed our message,
we will take over the GOP or run our own candidates.
(frankly, i do NOT think that the GOP is as STUPID & ARROGANT as the DIMocRAT "leaders" were/are, so we will NOT have to "stage a coup".)

just my opinion.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | November 5, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

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