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Tea Party Primary Problems

[ Posted Monday, February 24th, 2014 – 18:10 PST ]

As we enter into what political wonks call "primary season," the next few months are going to prove instructive as to the relative strength in the Republican Party of both the Tea Party and the Establishment Republican factions. The Tea Party rode high in the 2010 election cycle, and was again influential during the whole 2012 race, but one has to wonder if the luster of the Tea Party's shine is beginning to wear off -- even among Republican primary voters. The next few months will tell, as sitting Republicans either win their primaries or are dethroned by their Tea Party challengers.

This will be most important in the Senate races, once again. In the past two cycles, Republican voters have chosen enough Tea Party stalwarts (who then went on to lose very winnable general election races) to have changed the control of the Senate, after all. Some of them crashed and burned so spectacularly that even today we still remember their names and their gaffes (Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin and Christine "I'm Not A Witch" O'Donnell, to name just two). Republicans need to gain six Senate seats, and (just as in 2010 and 2012) they've got a real shot at doing so. If, that is, they manage to pick candidates who can be counted on to not say outrageous things while campaigning.

This year, several Tea Party challengers seem to be crashing and burning early in the process. Mitch McConnell was supposed to have a tough primary fight against a Tea Partier, but his primary challenger seems to be fading fast in the polls (McConnell will still have a big fight in the general election, though). In Texas, Tea Party Senate candidate Chris Mapp just gave an interview to the Dallas Morning News where he unashamedly used the term "wetbacks" and declared that "ranchers should be allowed to shoot [them] on sight." In Kansas, the news broke this weekend that Milton Wolf, another Tea Party candidate for Senate, had in the past posted on Facebook X-rays of people with their heads blown off, complete with snarky commentary and jokes. Wolf and Mapp would surely have joined the ranks of Akin and O'Donnell if these stories had come out during the general election rather than before the primaries. But that's the point -- it didn't get that far. Both men's chances with the voters don't look so good now. Both were challenging sitting Republicans, whose chances have now improved.

This could be very good news for the Establishment Republican wing of the party. Rather than have a candidate implode in the general election (where the only two alternatives are voting for a Democrat or staying home), when candidates self-destruct before the primary then they never become the nominee in the first place. This increases the chances a competent Republican candidate can go on to win in November.

The Tea Party phenomenon has always consisted of two parts. There are the grassroots -- angry Republican voters who fervently believe in their cause -- and then there is the big money behind all this stirring of the Republican pot. Living as we do in the post-Citizens United world, the Tea Party's influence is more powerful than the sum of its grassroots. Candidates who would normally be considered too far out on the fringe are now a lot better funded and therefore survive longer than before. The 2012 presidential primaries showed this, with candidates like Newt Gingrich locking up one ultra-wealthy donor and having the money to keep running a lot longer than he probably should have.

However, now that the Establishment Republican wing has seen how nominating Tea Party candidates can mean throwing away at a chance of control of the Senate, and now that they've seen what Tea Party candidates do when they actually get to Washington (as John Boehner has painfully learned in the House), they're beginning to fight back. There are well-funded groups who are now devoted to blocking Tea Partiers from ever becoming nominees, such as the one Karl Rove created. This balances the field a bit.

One has to wonder where the opposition research is coming from when you read stories like Milton Wolf's, in fact. More effort is going towards the vetting process for Tea Party challengers, it seems. Of course, I could be all wrong about that. It could just be people who never should have run for office in the first place revealing (in spectacular fashion, to the media) their true character. To put it another way, maybe people like Chris Mapp (or Todd Akin) just can't help themselves. Have the big money folks behind the Tea Party groups learned their lesson yet about how to properly vet candidates? You'd think, by now, this would have been an obvious problem for them to have fixed, but the whole Tea Party movement is about purity of thought over actual qualifications to be a public servant, so who knows? Then again, to be fair, even Tea Partiers who don't draw a lot of the big Tea Party PAC money can still put their names on the ballot and then say stupid things to newspapers, so perhaps I'm overstating the case.

Establishment Republicans badly want control of the Senate. They know that all it would take would be for one or two of these Tea Party candidates to win their primaries and then lose in the general election to deny them winning a Senate majority this time around. They've certainly seen it happen before. Which could mean, as the primaries get closer and closer in each state, more stories appearing in the news which have been dug up from Tea Party candidates' pasts. It may be impossible to tell whether these are spontaneous eruptions of actual journalism, or rather machinations smeared with someone like Karl Rove's fingerprints. Is the media doing a better job digging things out? Will the Tea Party triumph in key states' primaries anyway? Or will the Establishment Republican empire strike back, behind the scenes?

Whatever the answers to those questions, it's going to be an interesting primary season to watch, on the Republican side. In the House, the Tea Party caucus is hard to pin down exactly, but roughly has about 50-70 members. Whether that increases or not after November will show whether Republican voters still support the Tea Party movement in a general sort of way -- mostly by showing how many Republican House members are still loudly self-identifying with the Tea Party. But the Senate is the real test. If all sitting Republican senators survive their primaries, then it'll be one sort of test. But if two or three Tea Partiers win the nomination, it'll be an entirely different test for the Republican Party as a whole. So far, it seems a few Tea Partiers are showing themselves not ready for prime time a lot earlier in the process than in 2012. It's too early to really draw any conclusions, but it'll be fascinating to see it play out over the next few months.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

18 Comments on “Tea Party Primary Problems”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    This obsession with the Tea Party simply can't be healthy.. :D

    I know the Left would LOVE to have their own "Tea Party" movement. I know the Left was really hoping for the OWSers (rhymes with 'lusers') would be the Tea Party of the Left..

    But, it didn't happen. Get over it.. That's one of the problems with the Left. Rather than work HARDER to make their groups successful, their radio personalities successful, their media personalities successful, the Left seems to think the easier way to go is to simply tear down the opposing groups..

    OK.. Got that out of my system..

    Moving on..

    I have a feeling that making a statement this time around will be much less important than actually accomplishing the goal..

    Which is, of course, to take full control of Congress..

    While their might be an internal squabble here or there, it won't be ANYTHING like the Dem Eat Dem primary of 2008...

    Time will tell...

    Michale

  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    M-

    You are confounding Left/Right with Democrat/Republican. Dems have had their own versions of the Tea Party, and Republicans prospered from them.

    Republican radio personalities prosper because radio is an old, declining medium. Republicans tend to be older than Democrats and they still listen to AM radio. Limbaugh's audience is tiny in absolute terms, about the size of NPR. Media has moved on.

  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:

    - M

    To put it another way. Republicans reign supreme in the cavalry branch. Huzzah!

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Dems have had their own versions of the Tea Party,

    Yea?? Name one..

    Name one Dem group that has had the kind of political influence that the Tea Party has had..

    Sure, the Left has MoveOn, CodePink and a host of other groups..

    But NONE of them (COMBINED) have never come CLOSE to the kind of influence the TP has had..

    Have you ever heard of a MoveOn candidate in a national election?? A CodePink candidate??

    Me neither...

    Republicans tend to be older than Democrats and they still listen to AM radio.

    What's that old saying??

    When a person is young and du.... idealistic, they are Democrats. When they grow up, they become Republicans... :D

    Limbaugh's audience is tiny in absolute terms, about the size of NPR. Media has moved on.

    One would never know that based on the amount of fanaticism and boycotts and general hysteria over the likes of Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck and O'Reilly...

    And how many times the Left has tried to emulate them and fallen flat on their faces..

    WHY do you think that is??? Why does the Left try and emulate them if it's a dying medium??

    Michale

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    To put it another way. Republicans reign supreme in the cavalry branch. Huzzah!

    Not just the cavalry...

    Hoooooaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! :D

    Michale

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    M - (4)

    Eugene McCarthy antiwar wing circa '68.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    I was referring to the here and now.. MoveOn/CodePink should have gave that away.. :D

    I am sure if we went back a hundred years, you could make a case as well... :D

    Michale

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Having said all of the afore, I accept your opinion that things in California are, as my lovely wife would say, "Peachy Keen Wonderful"... :D

    Michale

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    Woops.... Wrong commentary...

    My bust...

    Michale

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Anything worth saying is worth repeating, even in the wrong commentary. :)

  11. [11] 
    TheStig wrote:

    M - "Why does the Left try and emulate them if it's a dying medium??"

    For the money. Selling advertising slots to corporations looking to reach older Democrats. There is still money to be milked from dying media.

  12. [12] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Looks like I scooped the AP. Similar story just out:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/republican-senate_n_4856060.html

    Nice to get confirmation...

    :-)

    -CW

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    For the money. Selling advertising slots to corporations looking to reach older Democrats. There is still money to be milked from dying media.

    So, with Democrats, it's all about the money..

    Color me shocked!! :D

    Michale

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    Hay TS,

    Obama is quoted as saying that those who support him and further his agenda are "doing god's work"...

    What do you think??

    Just a little hint of megalomania, eh??

    Michale

  15. [15] 
    TheStig wrote:

    CW - (12) Nice work!

    M-(13) You miss the larger point. The cable entertainment business is all about making money from a broadcast market fragmented into hundreds of niches. Mistaking MSNBC or Fox News for genuine politics is like mistaking Spanish moss for the host Oak Tree. The cable entertainment/political relationship is symbiotic, and for the networks, it's all about making a profit from niche targeted ad slots. Profit goes away, so do the shows, but the politicians remain.

  16. [16] 
    TheStig wrote:

    M-(16)

    By that logic, there are legions megalomaniacs under every little white steeple in town. Obama is in very good company.

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    By that logic, there are legions megalomaniacs under every little white steeple in town. Obama is in very good company.

    You would be right..

    Except for that little thingy that the Left is always hysterical about called "Separation Of Church And State"...

    Having said that, I completely agree with you..

    Obama IS in the same company as those other megalomaniacs who seem to think they know what god (if there is a god) wants...

    I couldn't have said it better myself.. :D

    Although I would not characterize it as "good" company.. :D

    Michale

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    The cable entertainment/political relationship is symbiotic, and for the networks, it's all about making a profit from niche targeted ad slots. Profit goes away, so do the shows, but the politicians remain.

    So, why is it that Republican/Conservative radio is more profitable than Democrat/Liberal radio??

    Because more people listen to, WANT to listen to, conservative radio...

    And WHY do more people listen to, WANT to listen to conservative radio??

    Because liberal radio is all about telling Americans how bad they are and how bad their country is..

    Who wants to listen to that??

    Michale

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