MAYBE TEA PARTIERS ARE HELPING — THE OTHER PARTY…. Marc Ambinder ponders an interesting question today: “With the exception of Scott Brown’s miraculous Senate race victory in Massachusetts — and even there, one can question the premise — has the Tea Party movement really done anything to help the Republican Party this cycle?”

As far as I can tell, not much. The trend started early on, in the special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district, where Tea Party activism helped a Democrat win a seat that’s been held by Republicans for about 150 years.

But notice how this has continued in the ensuing months. The Senate race in Kentucky was going to be an easy one for Republicans, but thanks to the Tea Party crowd, now it’s a Democratic pick-up opportunity. The Senate race in Florida was a lock for the GOP, but thanks to Tea Partiers, the frontrunner is currently an independent who might caucus with Dems. The Senate race in Nevada looked very bad for Majority Leader Harry Reid (R), but thanks to Tea Party, his prospects have improved considerably in recent months.

In several other races — Illinois, California, Colorado, Connecticut — Tea Partiers keep pushing Republicans further and further to the right, which in turn gives Democrats stronger chances of success.

The Tea Party crowd also had a hand in ending Sen. Bob Bennett’s (R) career in Utah, and while the race is almost certainly out of reach for Dems, the ordeal made the entire Republican Party look bad.

Ambinder explained:

[A]s one of my Twitter followers points out, it has helped to rid the party of its RINOs, which I suppose might be a good thing, but then again, depending upon your view of electoral politics, it might not.

I don’t think the TPs energized the GOP base any more than it was already energized. The TP, indeed, is actually distributing that energy to regions of political space that might be harmful to the party itself. Democrats now have a foil, just as Republicans have Obama.

I had assumed that the TP movement would be beneficial to the party in the short-term and harm it in the long-term, but today, it is hard to see where the short term benefits are. Even Scott Brown is tacking back to the center and distancing himself from the TP movement.

That part about Dems having a foil seems especially interesting. We’ve all heard quite a bit in recent months about the “enthusiasm gap.” Democratic voters may be more inclined to get excited about the midterm elections if the alternative is the success of candidates backed by unhinged, misguided, right-wing Tea Partiers.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.