‘GOP Establishment Primary Wins’: What do they really mean?

The seal of Suphan Buri Province, Thailand. (Image: Wikimedia)
The seal of Suphan Buri Province, Thailand. (Image: Wikimedia)

WASHINGTON, May 24, 3014 — The mass media story line about the recent string of GOP establishment primary wins from North Carolina to Idaho, is that the electorate at large is rejecting the Tea Party and the policies it represents. Politico’s Scott Wong posted the header, “2014 TEA-PARTY INSURRECTION? MORE LIKE BOSTON MASSACRE”. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “GOP Sees Primaries Taming Tea Party”.

But then what of these elections? A bit of a reality check is in order. Every one of these races had a distinctive dynamic in play. Much to do had been made of the Thom Tillis victory in North Carolina. While it is true that the media had branded his opposition as Tea Party-sponsored candidates, could anyone possibly categorize Tillis as a RINO or a moderate? Tillis as House Speaker ushered in tax reform, school vouchers, abortion restrictions, voter ID laws and legislatively blocked gay marriage. Conservatives in California would take that kind of “RINO” any day of the week!

The fact is that the United States Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove were forced to settle for the least conservative in a pack of staunch conservatives in that race. They spent an enormous amount of money to come away with a big question mark in terms of whether Tillis will embrace their agenda. Amusingly, Jim Newell of Salon points out the obvious:

“And yet … what is the Chamber getting out of this? You’d expect a group that outlays somewhere near $70 million in an election season to get a certain amount of subservience from the candidates it supports. Perhaps on, say, comprehensive immigration reform, passage of which is one of the Chamber’s top legislative priorities. The organization’s leader, Tom Donohue, has gone so far as to suggest/joke that the GOP shouldn’t even bother fielding a presidential candidate in 2016 if they don’t move on immigration.

But as we wrote last week, most of the Chamber’s big endorsees this year — Mitch McConnell, Jack Kingston, Thom Tillis, Thad Cochran — have taken firm stances against any and all forms of AMNESTY!, such as the (arduous) path to citizenship included in the “Gang of Eight” bill that passed the Senate last year, in order to steer clear of their primary challengers.”

In Tillis’ case, his campaigning on Tea Party issues sucked the oxygen out of the room for his challengers – or to quote Slate’s Dave Weigel, Tillis is “the best example of how the Republican Party’s drive to the right has robbed space from Tea Party challengers.”

Mitch McConnell owes his primary victory in Kentucky, not to anti-Tea Party sentiment, but to only two things: a massive amount of campaign money from groups dedicated to assist him in “crushing” his Tea Party opponents; and the insurmountable advantage of incumbency. McConnell spent over $12 million in advertising, while Matt Bevin’s whole campaign war chest amounted only to $3 million. Bevin wasn’t his own best friend in the campaign, either.

The New York Times hits the mark regrettably when they note that Bevin was forced to defend himself for showing up at a cockfighting rally, for padding his résumé, and for backing the bailout of big banks when he worked as an investment adviser, then calling the rescue “irresponsible” as a candidate.

Even so, McConnell’s final margin of victory, 60 to 36 percent, barely falls into the “crush” category. The real winner in that election wasn’t McConnell, but Rand Paul. McConnell is now in Paul’s back pocket and there’s not a chance that Paul won’t remind him of that regularly.

At the end of the day, McConnell’s survival doesn’t support the media narrative. Neither does Boehner’s re-election or that of most of the other GOP winners so far. They are either accountable to the advantages of incumbency or the avalanche of money from PACs dedicated to arresting the momentum of even more insurgent candidates than were elected in 2010 and 2012.

Rep. Mike Simpson won re-election in Idaho’s 2nd District, but not because he was a moderate Republican. He won because his record in Congress was one that any Tea Party minded voter would be comfortable with, as exemplified by his A+ rating from the NRA , his 100 percent rating from National Right to Life, and support for the implementation of eVerify and opposition to amnesty for illegals.

Most reports about the sweep of “establishment GOP wins” leave out Ben Sasse, President of Midland University. Sasse’s win is considered technically a Tea Party win, even though there was little separating him politically from his Republican opponents and there was no incumbent to dethrone. The Tea Party label is bolstered by his support during the campaign from the Club for Growth, Tea Party Patriots, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee along with Tea Party Empress Sarah Palin.

There were other wins that could be classified as Tea Party victories, including former Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney in West Virginia’s second congressional district, who received funding from the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Even Mara Liasson of NPR, is not fooled by the general media narrative of the repudiation of the Tea Party. She observed that:

“If Tea Party candidates are losing these primaries, the Tea Party is winning the larger war because it’s been hard on substance to tell the difference between these candidates. These aren’t battles about ideology but more on which candidate is better positioned to win in the fall. And no matter who controls the Senate in January, the ranks of Republicans in Congress next year are going to be more conservative than they are now. That’s the exact same thing that happened in the last two election cycles – the Tea Party is moving the Republican Party to the right.”

Democrat partisan columnist Eugene Robinson, echoes Liasson’s general observation:

“What’s happening in the Republican primaries is less a defeat for the tea party than a surrender by the GOP establishment, which is winning key races by accepting the tea party’s radical anti-government philosophy.”

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  • michaelnoaka

    “… radical anti-government philosophy.” Hmmm sounds just like what happened in 1776.

  • Gadsden Purchase

    Since free markets reward us for the usefulness of our actions, they are incompatible with merit-based systems of subjective judgement.