How the Tea Party Could Cost Republicans the Senate, Again

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson built his reputation as a moderate, policy-oriented Republican. But in his Senate race against Democrat Tammy Baldwin, he has had to go through the same uncomfortable shift to the right faced by other Republicans who made their names in a less dogmatic GOP. To wit, this video—filmed in June—shows Thompson telling a Tea Party group that he is best suited to “come up with programs to do away with Medicaid and Medicare,” as the conservative governor who pioneered welfare reform in the 1990s. Take a look:

In a state where 13.9 percent of the population is over the age of 65, it’s not a good idea to bill yourself as the guy most qualified to end the most popular program administered by the federal government.

More broadly, if Thompson loses—Baldwin currently leads by an average of 5 points—it will be another instance where complete adherence to GOP orthodoxy cost the party a shot at winning the Senate. Indeed, if Democrats hold the Senate this fall, it will be because the Tea Party prevailed in Missouri—where Claire McCaskill has a fighting chance against Todd Akin—and Indiana, where Richard Mourdock is deadlocked against Representative Joe Donnelly.

If Democrats keep the Senate—on top of winning the White House—it would be fair for more moderate Republicans to blame the right-wing. Whether this would shift the direction of the party, however, is a different question.