While the Tea Party fell far short of its objectives in the mid-term elections, its leaders entered the New Year acting like they owned the Republican franchise, bad-mouthing not only Democrats but also Republicans who failed to give the insurgent candidates they backed congressional leadership positions and stuck a toe into the bipartisanship pool by supporting an arms-control treaty with Russia, a food-safety bill, compensation for stricken 9/11 rescue workers and a repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Beyond privilege, the Tea Party's sense of grievance and self pity is well documented. Less so is the damage that it wrought where marquee candidates like Sharon Angle in Nevada and Joe Miller in Alaska not only lost but caused havoc down-ticket. But it is Christine O'Donnell's landslide loss in Delaware that takes the cake.
In the blink of an eye -- or rather the 13 hours that polls were open on November 2 -- the Delaware Republican Party went from what had been a sure bet to capture Vice President Biden's former Senate seat and be the deal maker and breaker in the state General Assembly to flaming ruins.
The backlash against O'Donnell and her loony tune ideas was so strong that Democrats gained supermajorities in both houses of the General Assembly despite a slate of so-so candidates, meaning that they can write and pass legislation at will.
There are pretty much two constants in Delaware, where I vote and live most of the time: Voters are notorious ticket splitters, having once elected a governor and lieutenant governor from different parties, and the office of state treasurer is a stepping stone for higher office. Senator Tom Carper and Governor Jack Markel were state treasurers, and Republican Chris Bonini, a highly regarded fiscal conservative, was considered a shoo-in until he was blindsided by the former witch.
O'Donnell, for her part, seems to have learned nothing from her drubbing and has whined a la Sarah Palin, who promised to campaigned for her on the crucial Sunday before Election Day but instead shopped on Fifth Avenue and took in a New York Jets game. And O'Donnell, like Palin, landed a lucrative book contract.
The Delaware GOP is now a brand so toxic that few beyond the most radical Republicans dare touch it. Mainstream Republicans will not stand a chance in the 2012 party primary and the party will be toast in the presidential election only in part because favorite son Biden will be on the ticket.
Delaware is no more representative of the U.S. than Alabama or Oregon, but what the Tea Party did there will have consequences at the national level. That, overall mid-term election results aside, does not bode well for a party with an already shrunken base.
Pat Toomey, a Tea party darling who beat Congressman Joe Sestak to take Senator Arlen Specter's longtime Senate seat, seems to be getting that message. His conservative bona fides aside, he has spoken out for bipartisanship since his election, supported the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and has abstained from bashing President Obama.
Whether others follow Toomey may well determine whether the Tea Party is a one or two election phenom or has real legs. I am voting for the former.