The Tea Party’s Over

Outside conservative groups are experiencing the limits of their influence.

Tea Party member John Wallmeyer watches results from the Virginia Governor's race at an election night gathering of supporters of Republican candidate Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinell November 5, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia. Cuccinelli, running against Terry McAuliffe, became the first state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
March 18, 2014, 3:44 p.m.

Freedom­Works is­sued an un­usu­al round of en­dorse­ments this week. The con­ser­vat­ive group, which won pub­li­city for back­ing in­tra­party chal­lenges to Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell and Rep. Mike Simpson, de­cided to play it safe this time. It en­dorsed three sen­at­ors and nine con­gress­men, none of whom face any ser­i­ous com­pet­i­tion — Re­pub­lic­an or Demo­crat­ic. It stayed out of the con­tested Ok­lahoma primary for Sen. Tom Coburn’s seat, but en­dorsed Re­pub­lic­an James In­hofe, who doesn’t face any GOP op­pos­i­tion. In South Car­o­lina, Freedom­Works is back­ing Sen. Tim Scott, who’s a lock for reelec­tion, but it isn’t do­ing any­thing against vul­ner­able Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, who’s also on the bal­lot this year.

All told, it’s a sign that the group has stopped stick­ing its neck out for long-shot con­ser­vat­ive in­sur­gents and is con­tent to put some easy vic­tor­ies on the board.

It’s a far cry from the early am­bi­tions of the ag­gress­ively anti­es­tab­lish­ment group, which entered the cycle boldly chal­len­ging sit­ting sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing the cham­ber’s most power­ful Re­pub­lic­an. Now they’re con­tent to fo­cus on their sup­port for mem­bers of Con­gress who are as close to reelec­tion locks as they come. In­deed, Freedom­Works’ latest slam-dunk en­dorse­ments are em­blem­at­ic of scaled-back am­bi­tions from lead­ing out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups.

Of the 10 “RI­NOs” in the House flagged for de­feat by the Club for Growth last year, only one faces a primary op­pon­ent. With two of their lead­ing Sen­ate chal­lengers’ cam­paigns fizz­ling, the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund has now de­cided to back con­ser­vat­ives in House primar­ies. And after rais­ing only $766,000 in 2013 — less than one-third of their 2011 fun­drais­ing — Freedom­Works is now back­ing Re­pub­lic­ans who are so safe that they don’t need any out­side help. Con­ser­vat­ive groups are even dis­agree­ing on which races to tar­get. 

2014 is shap­ing up as the year the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment is find­ing its foot­ing. Of the 12 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors on the bal­lot, six face primary com­pet­i­tion, but only one looks ser­i­ously threatened: Sen. Thad Co­chran of Mis­sis­sippi. More sig­ni­fic­antly, only two House Re­pub­lic­ans are fa­cing cred­ible com­pet­i­tion from tea-party con­ser­vat­ives: Simpson and Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania — few­er than the num­ber of con­ser­vat­ive House Re­pub­lic­ans fa­cing com­pet­i­tion from the es­tab­lish­ment wing (Reps. Justin Amash, Wal­ter Jones, and Kerry Bentivolio). With fil­ing dead­lines already passed in 23 states, it’s hard to see that dy­nam­ic chan­ging.

Even the Club for Growth, one of the first out­side groups to tar­get Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers of Con­gress, has been not­ably dis­cip­lined this year. Last Feb­ru­ary, the Club en­cour­aged can­did­ates to run against 10 squishy House Re­pub­lic­ans, launch­ing a Primary­My­Con­gress­man.com site fea­tur­ing the so-called RI­NOs. Only one qual­i­fied chal­lenger emerged. Their PAC is tar­get­ing just one Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or (Co­chran, fa­cing state Sen. Chris McDaniel) and one Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­man (Simpson). Mean­while, they’ve joined forces with the party es­tab­lish­ment in back­ing Sen­ate can­did­ates Rep. Tom Cot­ton of Arkan­sas and Dan Sul­li­van of Alaska. The en­dorse­ment of Sul­li­van is sig­ni­fic­ant, since they backed Joe Miller’s los­ing gen­er­al-elec­tion cam­paign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010. Miller’s run­ning again, but this time they’re op­pos­ing him in the primary.

Giv­en the mood of the Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­ate, it’s strik­ing to see the dis­con­nect between the num­ber of con­ser­vat­ive Sen­ate primary chal­lenges and the low num­ber of con­ser­vat­ives run­ning against House in­cum­bents. With 211 Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning for reelec­tion, only two are cred­ibly be­ing chal­lenged from the right — less than 1 per­cent. That sug­gests the hun­ger for throw­ing out Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors is as much a product of out­side in­ter­ven­tion as a re­flec­tion of genu­ine grass­roots op­pos­i­tion.

“There are a lot of Ted Cruz im­it­at­ors that be­lieve all you need to do is make the race na­tion­al and raise a bunch of money on­line and get na­tion­al groups to en­dorse you and everything will take care of it­self,” said one con­ser­vat­ive strategist, lament­ing the qual­ity of pro­spect­ive chal­lengers. Many na­tion­al groups, like­wise, seem to be over­es­tim­at­ing their own abil­ity to re­shape a race with a mere en­dorse­ment.

As my At­lantic col­league Molly Ball writes in the latest is­sue of Demo­cracy, the tea party “is now more prop­erly re­garded as one fac­tion among many in the Re­pub­lic­an co­ali­tion — and a poorly or­gan­ized, ar­riv­iste fac­tion at that.” She noted the fun­drais­ing struggles among most of the lead­ing Sen­ate tea-party chal­lengers — in marked con­trast to the quick mil­lions raised by pre­vi­ous fa­vor­ites, like Nevada’s Shar­ron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Don­nell in 2010.

That doesn’t mean the in­flu­ence of the con­ser­vat­ive grass roots has petered out. If any­thing, it demon­strates that con­ser­vat­ives have already re­shaped the House to their lik­ing in re­cent elec­tions. This year’s Sen­ate class of Re­pub­lic­ans, who won their last elec­tion be­fore the emer­gence of the tea party, is merely a lag­ging in­dic­at­or. Out­side groups are still poised to play a sig­ni­fic­ant role in open primar­ies, where it’s easi­er to have an im­pact than against en­trenched in­cum­bents.

While the na­tion­al fo­cus has been on the tar­geted Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors, it’s crowded primar­ies in Geor­gia, North Car­o­lina, and Iowa that con­cern Re­pub­lic­an strategists the most.

Re­pub­lic­ans fear that weak, too-con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ates in these races could cost them valu­able seats — with con­trol of the Sen­ate at stake. With the ex­cep­tion of Freedom­Works’ back­ing of phys­i­cian Greg Bran­non in North Car­o­lina, most con­ser­vat­ive groups have re­mained on the side­lines in these cru­cial con­tests. But that could change if the Geor­gia and North Car­o­lina races head in­to run­offs, or if the Iowa nom­in­at­ing fight heads to a con­ven­tion (if no one wins 35 per­cent or more of the vote in a primary). For now there’s an un­com­fort­able GOP détente — with neither side tip­ping the scales yet.

If out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups en­dorse like-minded can­did­ates like Rep. Paul Broun of Geor­gia, Iowa talk-show host Sam Clo­vis, and Bran­non in these primar­ies, ex­pect a heated ideo­lo­gic­al battle to break out over the fu­ture of the party. But if they pull their punches, it’s a sign that even tea-party sym­path­izers re­cog­nize their in­flu­ence has peaked.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4825) }}

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
18 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
19 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
20 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
22 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×