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Want to know what effect the Tea Party has had on American political life? Just consider that even the traditional media types are having trouble not snickering about the GOP presidential lineup, which ranges from the possibly insane Michell Bachmann, to clownish panderers like Donald Trump, and pathetic panderers like the once serious Mitt Romney. As Steve Benen remarked today:

It’s problematic that a ridiculous reality-show host is leading some national polls, but it’s also troubling that the Republican presidential field is so ridiculous, every few weeks we find ourselves wondering, “Do we really have to take _____ seriously?

With the speculation that Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer may be getting ready to wade into the GOP senatorial pool, it struck me that we have much the same situation here in Missouri with regard to the 2012 senatorial race. With the exception of Ann Wagner, about whom there’s been very little recent buzz, it seems like most of Missouri’s senatorial hopefuls have been dredged up from the stale leavings at the bottom of the Tea Party kettle.

Both Sarah Steelman and Ed Martin have gone way beyond just flirting with the Tea Party, alhough it doesn’t seem to be doing them much good. Both have had abysmal fund-raising luck so far, which doesn’t bode well for their chances. Could this be Tea Party blow-back? Certainly, lots of erstwhile Tea Partiers seem to be either too tired or too embarrassed to keep turning out in their silly costumes – or, my theory, they’re a little taken aback now that they’ve had a chance to see just what the Tea Party darlings they sent to Washington and to statehouses all over the country really want to do.

There may be other reasons, though, for the poor showing from the intrepid Tea Party duo. Martin certainly carries loads of negative baggage from his days in the Blunt administration, and his cheerfully aggressive style suggests nothing more than a determined con. These negatives may have combined with his laughable – and losing – antics in his recent House campaign to besmirch any Tea Part gloss he’s picked up.

In Steelman’s case, I’m tempted to wonder if the good ol’ GOP boys and their Tea Party pals, in spite of all their nay-saying, might not be put off by a tough, aggressive female candidate. Steelman certainly doesn’t have the respectable – and manageable – country club aura cultivated by old-line GOP women – an Ann Wagner, for instance – and there does seem to be a palpable distaste for her that is based on style rather than substance. Remember Mark Reardon’s “not the sharpest fork in the drawer” remark, which was occasioned by an interview in which Steelman, by any objective standard, actually did a creditable job regurgitating the talking points delivered by almost all GOPers? Not exactly an IQ test to start with, yet she alone was deemed to have failed on the basis of delivering the standard GOP boiler plate that, otherwise, seems to be de rigeur.**

Rep. Todd Akin could, of course, be regarded as the elder statesman of Teahadists, sort of a joke among the jokes. A charter member of the House’s Tea Party caucus, there isn’t an absurd right wing position that he hasn’t been able to render even more ridiculous. Health care? Akin says leave it to charity. Medicare? Akin says it saps our character, leading to a “sniveling” entitlement state. Social Security? A “terrible investment” that he “doesn’t like.” Religion? Akin, an advocate for David Barton’s Christian Nation, says bring it on; there’s enough Christian Sharia for everybody.

If Luetkemeyer, the only other Missouri House member to join the Tea Party caucus, chooses to enter this select group – and David Catenese thinks that “whether it’s Luetkemeyer or Akin who runs could ultimately be determined by which member is more unsatisfied with the final (redistricting)* lines signed into law – he will bring his own special schtick. Luetkemeyer has most memorably made his bones as a climate denialist. Just what Missouri needs in the senate – another crackpot, anti-science, energy industry stooge to stand in the way of green industrial development and new jobs.

What does it mean that almost all the declared – and possibly soon-to-declare – Missouri senatorial contenders are tea-partying far out on the right wing of an out-of-control GOP plane? Does it maybe indicate that the prospect of paying more than lip service to the Tea Party’s extreme and often contradictory demands has frightened off the saner GOPers in the state? Perhaps there are also some implications for what’s going to happen to that wildly veering GOP plane itself.

Another question would arise should any of these loonies manage to defeat Claire McCaskill in 2012.  That question would pertain to the intelligence of the average Missouri voter and the answer would be to too depressing to contemplate.

*”redistricting” added to text.

** Sentence edited for clarity.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons