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GOP created its own foe in Tea Party

By Gloria Borger, Senior Political Analyst
  • Gloria Borger: GOP leaders harped on anti-government message after Democratic wins
  • Angry Tea Partiers took up the cause and bypassed incumbent Republicans, Borger says
  • Senate GOP leader might find these loose cannons to be unmanageable, Borger warns
  • For Democrats' slogan, Borger suggests, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "AC360°," "John King, USA" and "State of the Union" as well as participating in special events coverage.

(CNN) -- Once upon a time, back after Barack Obama's impressive 2008 presidential win, defeated and depressed Republicans had to do something to prove they still had a pulse. So leaders went out of their way -- and it wasn't easy -- to recruit stellar, well-known, GOP candidates for Senate: a governor in Charlie Crist of Florida, a secretary of state in Trey Grayson of Kentucky, a seasoned and popular congressman in Mike Castle of Delaware.

At the time, it seemed like a really good plan. And it got even better when President Obama and his jolly band of congressional Democrats shepherded through some controversial, and unpopular, legislation. Huge bills to reform health care and stimulate the economy played right into the GOP wheelhouse: too much government, too much spending.

So as the White House and Democrats chalked up success after success, their poll numbers sank. Independent voters ran away scared. Republican voters were just furious. And GOP congressional leaders basked in the brilliant simplicity and effectiveness of their newfound anti-government message. In fact, they honed it -- and harped on it -- at every opportunity. The storyline almost seemed too easy, just too good to be true.

As it turns out, it was.

Why? Because out of this angry, anti-government stew came a new broth, with plenty of disdain for all. And, lo and behold, the Tea Party renegades didn't look to Republicans as their saviors; they created their own. Sarah Palin went along for the ride claiming, of course, to be the movement's Mama Mentor. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has made a special point of endorsing Tea Partiers against Senate incumbents, which makes him really popular back at the clubhouse. And former House GOP poobah Dick Armey even runs a Tea Party group, railing against his former colleagues.

And, lo and behold, the Tea Party renegades didn't look to Republicans as their saviors; they created their own.
--Gloria Borger
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It is fratricide of the highest order. And it has been a sight to behold, as the uprising spawned several ugly GOP primaries, defeating enough Senate incumbents and serious candidates, such as Castle of Delaware, to all but guarantee the GOP can't win back the Senate.

"People aren't interested in résumés this year," moans a senior GOP aide involved with Senate campaigns. "Credibility isn't even an issue, or so it seems." And that's a Republican talking. Christine O'Donnell, who beat establishment-backed Castle, shouldn't expect much national campaign money.

Pardon the expression, but it seems the GOP has created its own miscreant offspring. And it may just have to learn to live alongside them. It's enough to warrant a short history lesson: Back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide, he brought some, er, unmemorable senators along for the ride. Anyone recall the sweeping legislative records of, say, Paula Hawkins of Florida or Jeremiah Denton of Alabama or Steve Symms of Idaho, to name a few? They rode the wave in, and became the unwelcome new kids at school. Eventually, they flunked out.

But they did get there, and that now becomes a GOP issue. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell could wind up with a completely unmanageable flock, unwilling to vote for even the most routine spending bills. Will they take to the Senate floor to rail against Social Security and Medicare? Will they vote to fund the war in Afghanistan? Will they even caucus with the Republicans?

Sure, Democrats figure they finally have something to applaud. Hope springs eternal that independent voters will be so nervous about the Tea Party candidates that they will flock to the polls to vote for Democrats. It's one vision, but isn't it just as likely that disgusted indies would just decide to stay home? And could these GOP candidates inspire the Democratic base to get out and vote? Maybe, if they can get over their newfound disdain for Obama.

iReport: Share your view on the Tea Party movement

The Democrats profess to love the outlier Tea Party candidates, hoping they will help them stem their losses. So how's this for a new Democratic campaign slogan: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Has a certain ring to it. Desperation. But it just might work.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.