Does The Tea Party Still Matter?
May 29, 2014 by Chip Wood
There are still some important primaries to come. And the chances look good for conservatives in several of them. But for right now, the Republican establishment is gloating about the many victories its candidates have enjoyed over its Tea Party challengers so far this primary season.
Nowhere is this truer than in Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had bragged that those upstarts on the right would be “crushed” in the coming elections. Sadly, in his case his boast turned out to be true.
McConnell defeated Matt Bevin, his Tea Party challenger, by some 24 points in the Senate primary there. I would have loved to have seen Bevin win that contest, and I said so on this website. But McConnell’s victory should come as no surprise. He had some huge advantages, including more money, far more name recognition and even the endorsement of Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, the State’s junior senator.
But McConnell’s biggest advantage was the simple fact that he was the incumbent. So far this primary season, not a single incumbent, Republican or Democrat, has failed to win his or her primary. Isn’t that disgusting? No matter how unhappy with Congress voters tell the pollsters they are, they still vote overwhelmingly to send “their guy” (or gal) back to Washington.
I’ll have more to say about this disastrous mindset in a moment. But first, let me note that the Tea Party has scored one victory in a Senate primary. It happened in a race where no incumbent was running. That was Nebraska, where current Senator Mike Johanns decided not to run for election.
In a five-way race to replace Johanns, it was the Tea Party-endorsed candidate, Ben Sasse, who got the most votes. He will face a Democrat opponent in November but is expected to enjoy a decisive victory in this very red State. And he has already said that he looks forward to working with such other Tea Party favorites as Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
But that’s about all we have to celebrate in the Senate primaries that have been held so far. In the GOP primary in Georgia, two Tea Party candidates finished out of the running. Tea Party candidates also lost in Idaho, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Until recently, the chances for a Tea Party challenger to defeat a longtime Republican moderate looked pretty good in Mississippi. Senator Thad Cochran, a 76-year-old who was running for his seventh term, was opposed by Chris McDaniel, a well-financed opponent who wasn’t even born when Cochran was first elected.
The contest has seen the usual amount of mudslinging, with all of the charges and countercharges you’d expect in a hotly contested election. But the feathers really hit the fan when several Cochran opponents were arrested on charges of conspiring to take photographs of Cochran’s bedridden wife, who has dementia and has been in a nursing home for the past 13 years. One of the ringleaders was on the board of directors of the Central Mississippi Tea Party.
No one has accused McDaniel of having anything to do with the strange affair. But the notoriety certainly hasn’t helped his campaign — or the Tea Party in Mississippi.
In a campaign appearance at the University of Mississippi back in February, McDaniel told the audience: “I’m not going to do anything for you. I’m going to get the government off your back, and then I’m gonna let you do it for yourself.”
I don’t know how that played with the students in his audience. I suspect that a lot of them — and an even larger percentage of any professors who were there — didn’t like it at all. We’ll find out next week if a majority of Republicans in the State are ready to replace a Senator who’s infamous for bringing home the pork with one who wants to eliminate it entirely — along with a bunch of other Federal programs.
A recent Gallup Poll seems to confirm that the Tea Party is losing support. It found that approval of the Tea Party has fallen from 32 percent, where it was back in 2010, down to just 22 percent today.
In a May 21st editorial, USA Today echoed the sentiments of many liberals when it wrote:
Tuesday’s Republican primaries in several states might someday be seen as the beginning of [the Tea Party’s] end. Crushing defeats for Tea party candidates suggest the movement is losing steam as the economy improves, the deficit drops and the GOP establishment fights back.
What that newspaper and the rest of the mainstream media fail to mention is that in election after election, it is the policies of the Tea Party that carry the day. Here is how Jenny Beth Martin, chairman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, describes what’s been happening:
In every primary this year, the chosen GOP nominee is opposed to Obamacare, and virtually all have pledged to repeal it. Republican nominees this primary cycle are also overwhelmingly in favor of cutting the size of government, reducing federal spending and enacting policies to revive our moribund economy.
The latest Gallup Poll confirms what Martin is saying. Here are what Republicans say are the top four issues facing the country:
- The economy in general (picked by 21 percent)
- Unemployment/jobs (17 percent)
- Healthcare and Obamacare (17 percent)
- The Federal deficit (16 percent)
And here’s something you’ll find interesting — and encouraging. When the views of potential voters who describe themselves as independents and Democrats were added to those of Republicans, the three issues that finished at the bottom of voters’ concerns were immigration, global warming and income equality, or the gap between rich and poor.
If you were campaigning for office, which issues would you want to emphasize in your campaign?
Or better yet, which positions would win your support? Let’s hope there are plenty of other folks who agree with us, in the remaining primaries and the November elections.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.