Inside the Messy but Moneyed Republican Plan to Neutralize the Tea Party

The business-friendly GOP establishment is putting its cash to work in skirmishes across the country that might reshape the 2014 elections.

Some fans dressed in Star Wars costumes gather in a market in Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, on May 21, 2010, to conmemorate the 30th anniversary of 'The Empire Strikes Back' film. 
National Journal
Beth Reinhard
Oct. 24, 2013, 1 a.m.

It took a tea-party in­sur­rec­tion that dis­abled the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and wrecked the Re­pub­lic­an brand, but after months of hand­wringing, es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans are pre­par­ing to at­tack ul­tracon­ser­vat­ive ideo­logues across red Amer­ica.

From Alabama to Alaska, the cen­ter-right, busi­ness-ori­ented wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party is gear­ing up for a series of skir­mishes that it hopes can pre­vent the 2014 midterm elec­tion from turn­ing in­to an­oth­er missed op­por­tun­ity. This will not be a co­ordin­ated op­er­a­tion. It will be messy, ugly, and prone to back­fir­ing. And if the comeback suc­ceeds, it will be in fits and starts, most likely cul­min­at­ing in the se­lec­tion of a pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee in 2016.

“Hope­fully we’ll go in­to eight to 10 races and beat the snot out of them,” said former Rep. Steve La­Tour­ette of Ohio, whose new polit­ic­al group, De­fend­ing Main Street, aims to raise $8 mil­lion to fend off tea-party chal­lenges against more main­stream Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents. “We’re go­ing to be very ag­gress­ive and we’re go­ing to get in their faces.”

The cat­er­waul­ing over the GOP brand ramped up after Pres­id­ent Obama’s reelec­tion and a hand­ful of set­backs in the Sen­ate be­fore hit­ting full screech as the coun­try hurtled to­ward de­fault. For some Re­pub­lic­ans, the time for soul-search­ing is over. “This is a battle we have to fight,” said GOP con­sult­ant John Fee­hery, who has ad­vised top Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers on Cap­it­ol Hill. “We can’t just lie down and let this hap­pen.”

Tac­tics be­ing dis­cussed among Re­pub­lic­an strategists, donors, and party lead­ers in­clude run­ning at­tack ads against tea-party can­did­ates for Con­gress; over­throw­ing Ron Paul’s liber­tari­an aco­lytes dom­in­at­ing the Iowa and Min­nesota state parties; pro­mot­ing open primar­ies over nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tions, which can pro­duce Re­pub­lic­an hard-liners such as Vir­gin­ia gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate Ken Cuc­cinelli and shut­down-in­stig­at­or Mike Lee of Utah; and coun­ter­ing polit­ic­al jug­ger­nauts Her­it­age Ac­tion, the Club for Growth, and Freedom­Works that tar­get Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents who have con­sor­ted with Demo­crats.

La­Tour­ette’s De­fend­ing Main Street group has iden­ti­fied its first pro­ject: de­fend­ing Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. The Club for Growth threw its sup­port to a tea-party chal­lenger, Bry­an Smith, be­cause Simpson backed the $700 mil­lion Wall Street bail­out, rais­ing the debt ceil­ing, and a budget deal that staved off the fisc­al cliff.

De­fend­ing Main Street also is keep­ing an eye on oth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans who have drawn the wrath of the Club for Growth, in­clud­ing Aaron Schock and Adam Kin­zinger of Illinois and Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­gin­ia, who is run­ning for the Sen­ate.

But there are many more races draw­ing the at­ten­tion of Re­pub­lic­an in­siders who fear the tea party — and the pub­lic’s grow­ing dis­taste for the move­ment — is jeop­ard­iz­ing GOP con­trol of the House and a po­ten­tial Sen­ate takeover. Con­sider:

  • A Nov. 5 spe­cial con­gres­sion­al elec­tion in Alabama, where former state Sen. Brad­ley Byrne is com­pet­ing in the Re­pub­lic­an run­off primary against Dean Young, a tea-party can­did­ate who de­clared at a can­did­ate for­um, “We are wit­ness­ing the end of a West­ern Chris­ti­an em­pire.”
  • A crowded Re­pub­lic­an primary field fa­cing a top Demo­crat­ic re­cruit, Michelle Nunn, for an open Sen­ate seat in Geor­gia. One GOP op­er­at­ive de­scribed two of the can­did­ates, Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gin­grey, as “tick­ing time bombs.” Broun has con­demned the the­ory of evol­u­tion, ques­tioned Pres­id­ent Obama’s cit­izen­ship and re­li­gion, and ad­voc­ated ab­ol­ish­ing the Fed­er­al Re­serve and re­turn­ing to the gold stand­ard. Gin­grey de­fen­ded former Mis­souri Sen­ate can­did­ate Todd Akin, who said vic­tims of “le­git­im­ate rape” could avoid preg­nancy.
  • A Re­pub­lic­an primary in the open Sen­ate race in South Dakota pit­ting chal­lengers from the right against former Gov. Mike Rounds. The front-run­ning can­did­ate has piqued con­ser­vat­ives by re­fus­ing to sign a no-new-taxes pledge.
  • A Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate primary in Alaska that fea­tures two es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures, Lt. Gov. Mead Tread­well and former De­part­ment of Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mis­sion­er Dan Sul­li­van, against Joe Miller, a tea-party firebrand with high un­fa­vor­able rat­ings after a 2010 de­feat.

Along with La­Tour­ette’s group, an­oth­er play­er in the battle for con­trol of the Re­pub­lic­an Party will be the Con­ser­vat­ive Vic­tory Pro­ject, an arm of the Cross­roads su­per PAC foun­ded by Re­pub­lic­an strategist Karl Rove. The group plans to vet GOP primary can­did­ates with the goal of send­ing the most vi­able con­ser­vat­ive to the gen­er­al elec­tion.

“We want to avoid situ­ations like 2010 with (Delaware Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee) Christine O’Don­nell, where a can­did­ate gains mo­mentum and the skel­et­ons come out after the primary,” said Cross­roads spokes­man Jonath­an Col­le­gio. “If skel­et­ons ex­ist, we’ll make every ef­fort to make sure they’re known to every group that spends money long be­fore the primary.”

The busi­ness com­munity is po­ten­tially a ma­jor ally in the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment’s comeback plan. After long fuel­ing Re­pub­lic­an cam­paigns, cor­por­ate lead­ers were stunned that a wing of the party would re­fuse to fund the gov­ern­ment and again risk na­tion­al de­fault in the hope of mov­ing an im­mov­able ob­ject, namely Obama’s health care law.

“We ex­pect politi­cians to con­duct them­selves in such a way that re­spects the rule of law and the pro­cess by which our fore­fath­ers con­struc­ted this re­pub­lic,” said Greg Ca­sey, pres­id­ent of a na­tion­wide co­ali­tion of busi­ness groups called BIPAC. Like oth­er busi­ness lead­ers and prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­ans, Ca­sey was re­luct­ant to identi­fy spe­cif­ic tar­gets for fear of ant­ag­on­iz­ing the con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots.

“They are go­ing to see a busi­ness com­munity in­ter­ested in res­ults and policy, and they have to de­cide wheth­er that’s to be feared or em­braced,” he said.

Be­cause ef­forts to roll the tea party typ­ic­ally pro­voke act­iv­ists to roar back stronger than ever, the old guard is stumped in some in­stances. Ideally, the es­tab­lish­ment would fig­ure out a way to chan­nel the move­ment’s pas­sion in­to elect­or­al vic­tor­ies in 2014 and 2016. But how do you con­trol Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Re­pub­lic­an ringlead­er of the shut­down, who may not count enough friends on Cap­it­ol Hill to re­name a post of­fice but whose real power comes from out­side Wash­ing­ton? How do you in­flu­ence House Re­pub­lic­ans when ger­ry­man­der­ing leaves them with little to fear?

“This con­flict could be the new nor­mal,” warned Rob Jes­mer, former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee. “Un­til we have a nom­in­ee people can rally around in 2016, I think we’re go­ing to be the wil­der­ness for a while.”

The latest round of polling offered evid­ence of this ex­ile: 64 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans had an un­fa­vor­able view of the Re­pub­lic­an Party in a new CNN/ORC In­ter­na­tion­al poll. The party’s im­age also sunk to an all-time low in the latest Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News sur­vey.

The dam­age to the party is ob­vi­ous in the Vir­gin­ia gov­ernor’s race, where two weeks be­fore the elec­tion, Re­pub­lic­ans are already writ­ing off Cuc­cinelli, their tea-party-backed nom­in­ee. As he lags be­hind Demo­crat Terry McAul­iffe in the polls, Re­pub­lic­ans are con­demning the state party for choos­ing its nom­in­ee at a con­ven­tion dom­in­ated by con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists in­stead of in a reg­u­lar primary. The de­cision promp­ted Lt Gov. Bill Bolling, who has strong ties to the busi­ness com­munity, to drop out of the race.

The second-guess­ing over the con­ven­tion and the party’s agenda is ex­pec­ted to dom­in­ate a tra­di­tion­al gath­er­ing of Re­pub­lic­an elec­ted of­fi­cials in Decem­ber and the elec­tions for loc­al party chairs in the spring.

“The con­ven­tion left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths and we’re not go­ing to see that again,” pre­dicted Shaun Ken­ney, a former spokes­man for the Vir­gin­ia GOP who runs a con­ser­vat­ive web site. “It’s go­ing to be like di­vorce court.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4522) }}

What We're Following See More »
‘PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE’
Priebus Asks Party to Unite Behind Trump
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
FEELING THE MIDWESTERN BERN
Sanders Upsets Clinton in Indiana
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Despite trailing Hillary Clinton by a significant margin, Bernie Sanders wasn't going the way of Ted Cruz tonight. The Vermont senator upset Clinton in Indiana, with MSNBC calling the race at 9pm. Sanders appears poised to win by a five- or six-point spread.

Source:
TRUMP IS PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE
Ted Cruz Bows Out, Effectively Ceding the Contest to Trump
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

And just like that, it's over. Ted Cruz will suspend his presidential campaign after losing badly to Donald Trump in Indiana tonight. "While Cruz had always hedged when asked whether he would quit if he lost Indiana; his campaign had laid a huge bet on the state." John Kasich's campaign has pledged to carry on. “From the beginning, I’ve said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory,” said Cruz. “Tonight, I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed."

Source:
TAKES AT LEAST 45 DELEGATES
Trump Wins Indiana, All but Seals the Nomination
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Republican establishment's last remaining hope—a contested convention this summer—may have just ended in Indiana, as Donald Trump won a decisive victory over Ted Cruz. Nothing Cruz seemed to have in his corner seemed to help—not a presumptive VP pick in Carly Fiorina, not a midwestern state where he's done well in the past, and not the state's legions of conservatives. Though Trump "won't secure the 1,237 delegates he needs to formally claim the nomination until June, his Indiana triumph makes it almost impossible to stop him. Following his decisive wins in New York and other East Coast states, the Indiana victory could put Trump within 200 delegates of the magic number he needs to clinch the nomination." Cruz, meanwhile, "now faces the agonizing choice of whether to remain in the race, with his attempt to force the party into a contested convention in tatters, or to bow out and cede the party nomination to his political nemesis." The Associated Press, which called the race at 7pm, predicts Trump will win at least 45 delegates.

Source:
THE QUESTION
What’s the Average Household Income of a Trump Voter?
14 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Seventy-two thousand dollars, according to FiveThirtyEight. That's higher than the national average, as well as the average Clinton or Sanders voter, but lower than the average Kasich voter.

Source:
×