For many political observers, 2010 was a banner election cycle for the Republican Party. A discouraged electorate, frustrated with the pace of the economic recovery, punished Democrats by giving the GOP control of Congress as part of a historic “red wave” election.
But that’s only half right: In the first midterm cycle of the Obama era, Republicans took control of the House, but not the Senate. Democrats lost seats but were able to hold onto the upper chamber thanks in part to GOP primary voters nominating some outlandish and unelectable candidates.
Indeed, there were all kinds of competitive races that Democrats likely would’ve lost were it not for candidates like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle. Two years later, Democrats actually gained Senate seats, thanks in part to Republican nominees such as Missouri’s Todd Akin and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock.
The moral of the story is obvious: The prevailing political winds matter, but so do candidates.
A decade later, it’s a lesson some in the party haven’t forgotten. The Hill reported:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said the political atmosphere is good for Republicans heading into the midterms but warned that the party could bungle its chances if “unacceptable” candidates win their primaries but go on to lose in November.
“From an atmospheric point of view, it’s a perfect storm of problems for the Democrats,” McConnell said. “How could [Republicans] screw this up? It’s actually possible. And we’ve had some experience with that in the past.”
He added, “In the Senate, if you look at where we have to compete in order to get into a majority, there are places that are competitive in the general election. So you can’t nominate somebody who’s just sort of unacceptable to a broader group of people and win. We had that experience in 2010 and 2012.”
The Kentucky Republican went on to say that some of his party’s nominees have been “bizarre.”
That’s true, and it’s sensible for the minority leader to be thinking along these lines as the 2022 elections draw closer. What McConnell neglected to mention, however, is that some of his party’s likely nominees this year might also be described as “bizarre.”
In Arizona, for example, there’s a sizable GOP primary field filled with candidates who don’t appear to have any interest in appealing to the American mainstream. In Colorado, the party is rallying behind a Senate candidate who’s not only peddled strange election conspiracy theories, he’s released an ad in which the Republican is seen literally blowing up a fake Dominion Voting machine.
There are also crowded primaries in Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — by some measures, competitive battleground states — in which the Senate nomination is likely to go to candidates who are very far to the right.
If McConnell is optimistic that his party won’t repeat its mistakes, and “unacceptable” nominees are a thing of the past, he might soon be disappointed.