WASHINGTON, March 22, 2014 — Every year in Nashville, the Tennessee Republican Party carries on a tradition called the Statesman Dinner.
Republican politicians from all over the state attend, and the event usually brings in a big name Republican speaker. This year, the Party went through the list of big name Republicans they could bring in. Then they chose Chris Christie.
The bloviating New Jersey Governor will be addressing the Tennessee Republicans on May 30. The theme of the event is, “Blue Print for a Red Nation.” As soon as Christie’s invitation was announced, the ridicule began. People began to ask questions like, “Is Charlie Crist (former Florida governor and ex-Republican) not available?”
Conservative wrath was intense. The Tennessee Republican Party Facebook page was filled with non-stop criticism. One Tennessee State Legislator, Andy Holt, said he would not go. On his Facebook page, Hold asked, “Really, Tennessee GOP? Gov. Chris Christie? What an absolutely terrible idea!”
He added, “I simply cannot imply my support. I have spoken with a number of other legislators who share my disapproval.”
Then he made the point that nailed conservative objections.
“What about having a truly conservative Republican team-player come and speak to us and excite the ‘real’ base of the Republican Party in Tennessee? I’m willing to make suggestions if necessary.”
As with all things political, there is more to this story than meets the eye. This year, Tennessee’s senior Senator Lamar Alexander is up for reelection. Alexander is known to Tennessee conservatives as “Liberal Lamar.” Alexander is being challenged by conservative Joe Carr.
Last year, Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney was accused of breaking Party rules that direct that the Party remain neutral in primary challenges. That was after the Party sent out a letter under his signature that appeared to endorse Alexander for reelection.
If the Party selected a speaker who would really excite the base, such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz, it might generate a swell of support for Carr over Alexander. To some, that would be bad.
Tennessee Republicans are facing the same civil war that is being played out on the national stage. Party leadership is the establishment; the conservative base, led by Tea Party groups, is increasingly frustrated with a party more interested in running the government than in leading with a conservative agenda.
If the Party wanted to do something to hurt Joe Carr’s efforts and help Lamar Alexander, they could not have chosen a better speaker for that purpose than Chris Christie. If that is the strategy, it appears to be working.
Tennessee conservatives are joining Andy Holt to declare on social media that they will not be going to the dinner.
Sooner or later, the Republican Party at either the state or national level is going to realize it really does need its base. There is a groundswell of voters who are no longer simply going to push the button for a Republican under the theory he or she is the lesser of two evils.
Sooner rather than later, a lot of voters are going to decide there is no lesser of two evils.