Political movements peter out unless they prove they can win.
That reality is a problem for the tea party, which just had one of its worst weeks since emerging on the scene way back in 2009. Tea-party-backed candidates in Senate primary races in Mississippi and Oklahoma lost to more establishment types, robbing the GOP’s purist wing of more representation in Washington.
The big blow came in Mississippi, where conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel fell to Sen. Thad Cochran in a runoff occasioned by the fact that neither man secured more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 3 primary. McDaniel won more votes in that election and was widely considered the favorite in the runoff because of the energy among his tea party backers. But Cochran effectively expanded the electorate — to include many African-American voters — and this time McDaniel found himself on the losing end of a narrow result.
McDaniel, showing the sort of poor sportsmanship usually reserved for international soccer, refused to concede — insisting that, somehow, he had not lost.
There wasn’t even a debate about whether T.W. Shannon, a tea party favorite in the Oklahoma Senate race, came up short. Shannon, who carried endorsements from the likes of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, got crushed by Rep. James Lankford on Tuesday. Shannon was hoping to push Lankford into a runoff but came nowhere close, taking just 34 percent of the primary vote.
Dave Brat’s historic victory over Rep. Eric Cantor in Virginia earlier this month feels a long way away for the tea party after a disastrous week of dashed expectations.
The tea party, for plummeting back to Earth, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
Cillizza covers the White House for The Washington Post and writes The Fix, its politics blog.