Matt Patterson

Tea party activists are celebrating the conservative surge which captured the House of Representatives for the GOP on November 2. And rightly so: Many of the newly elected representatives will owe their Washington careers to the tea party, through either direct support, or by simply benefiting from the tea party-driven national wave. And with redistricting on the horizon, the significance of the sweep in state legislatures and governorships by conservative candidates cannot be overstated.

However, on the U.S. Senate side, the tea party’s efforts produced murkier, more problematic results.

To be sure, Marco Rubio in Florida and Rand Paul in Kentucky prevailed handsomely. And Pat Toomey managed to squeak out a win in Pennsylvania. But just as many tea party favorites fell short of clinching a Senate seat – far shorter than they should have given the favorable political winds at their back.

Christine O’Donnell went down hard in Delaware. In West Virginia, John Raese didn’t even come close. As of this writing, it appears likely that Tea Party favorite Joe Miller will lose in Alaska. And in Nevada, Harry Reid successfully - and with plenty of room to spare - staved off the challenge from tea partier Sharron Angle.

Given the strength and popular support of the tea party movement, failure to make greater conservative gains in the Senate surely is a sign of the weakness of some of the candidates themselves. And sure enough, the tea partiers who lost were often prone to rookie mistakes and shared some propensity for verbal gaffes and/or embarrassing pasts. (It goes without saying that if you have to open one of your campaign commercials with “I’m not a witch,” you have already lost the argument, and the race.)

The lesson should be clear: It is not in itself sufficient for tea party candidates to be ideologically pure. It is also necessary that they be credible, stable candidates. Being for limited, constitutional government is a fine and noble thing; being astute enough to get elected on such a platform, and thus be in a position to do something about it, is something else entirely.

Matt Patterson

Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and contributor to Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (HarperCollins, 2010). His email is