Olympia Snowe’s Tea-Party-Induced Surrender

This New York Times piece about Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire from the Senate paints a picture of a lawmaker who got absolutely shellacked by the unleashing of Tea Party forces within Congress:

The vote [on the Blunt amendment] set for Thursday, framed as a choice between contraceptive coverage and religious freedom, was not the reason Ms. Snowe made her announcement, she said. Her retirement decision was bigger than any one vote. But people familiar with her thinking say the re-emergence of such hot-button social issues helped nudge her to the exit.

Georgia Chomas, a cousin of the senator who described herself as more like a sister, said social conservatives and Tea Party activists in Maine were hounding her at home, while party leaders in Washington had her hemmed in and steered the legislative agenda away from the matters she cared about.

“There was a constant, constant struggle to accommodate everyone, and a lot of pressure on her from the extreme right,” Ms. Chomas said from her real estate office in Auburn, Me. “And she just can’t go there.”

Mike Castle, a former moderate Republican House member from Delaware and a friend of Ms. Snowe and her husband, expressed a similar view.

“All of a sudden we’re talking about abortion. We’re talking about contraception. We’re talking about social issues that were not that big a deal,” said Mr. Castle, who lost his 2010 Senate bid to a Tea Party insurgency during the primary.

Thin comfort, maybe, but I think it’s going to be harder and harder to get people riled up about these sorts ofissues as the major demographic shifts reshaping our politics continue to unspool.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.