Tuesday’s elections were nothing if not confounding, but at least one fact seems beyond dispute: It was a bad day for the tea party. And for that Republicans may be thankful.
In traditionally conservative Virginia, a Democrat won the governor’s office, defeating a tea party favorite. In mainly liberal New Jersey, a Republican who is despised by the tea party – among others – won easy re-election as the state’s chief executive. There is a lesson in that, if anyone is paying attention.
There are shades of gray in these outcomes, no doubt. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe – a former Democratic National Committee chairman and ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton – defeated the far-right candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, but by just two percentage points. That made it a far closer race than pollsters were predicting.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie won an easy re-election in a decidedly blue state, defeating Democrat Barbara Buono with 60.5 percent of the vote. Christie’s margin of victory might not have been so convincing if the special election for U.S. Senate – won by Cory Booker, a hugely popular Democrat – had occurred on Tuesday instead of Oct. 16. Christie chose that date.
Still, the fact is that a tea party Republican couldn’t win in a traditionally red state while a centrist Republican skated to victory in a blue state. Or, more bluntly, a candidate representing the faction of the Republican Party that shut down the federal government and treats compromise as a four-letter word got nowhere in friendly territory, while a Republican candidate who operates from somewhere near the political center and who can work with Democrats to achieve public goals triumphed in the opposition’s front yard.
Will the Republican Party take the lesson? Not if it’s up to the tea party, which has been the tail wagging the party dog since the 2010 midterm elections.
Some are paying attention, though. “As Republicans, we have to ask, is there a business model issue here?” said Thomas M. Davis III, a former congressman from Virginia. (The answer is yes.) “We have a Republican who’s opted to go the tea party route, and it’s absolutely clear it’s a losing strategy – that’s going to be the message” of the election, he said.
Many Republicans hope that Christie will be the party’s standard bearer in the 2016 presidential election, though plenty find his approach unbearable. But his candidacy would give Republicans a better chance of winning than a candidate out of the once-again-discredited Sarah Palin-Rick Perry-Michele Bachmann mold.
The election produced interesting results around New York, too. Republicans took control of the Erie County Legislature for the first time since 1977, while also winning re-election to two countywide offices. Comptroller Stefan M. Mychajliw Jr. defeated Kevin P. Gaughan, and Sheriff Timothy B. Howard triumphed over two candidates, in part because of his pledge to violate his oath of office by not enforcing the SAFE Act.
Meanwhile, a Democrat became mayor of New York City. If that seems like a dog-bites-man headline, it’s the first time that has happened since David Dinkins’ election in 1989. For five terms the office has been held by strong Republicans who, by and large, made a positive mark on the city. Bill de Blasio will take a different course, but he will be measured against the records of Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
We hope he’s up to it. Whether upstaters like to acknowledge it or not, the health of New York City has an impact on the rest of the state.