Today, the 2014 primary season begins in earnest. As with 2010 and 2012, there are a fair number of "Tea Party" challenges to Republican incumbents and establishment primary favorites. Today we see if establishment favorite Thom Tillis can clear the 40 percent benchmark in North Carolina and avoid a Senate runoff. Next Tuesday insurgent Senate candidate Ben Sasse (pictured, at right) will try to clinch the nomination in Nebraska. Primaries the following week in Kentucky and Georgia will test establishment moxie, while June will see key races in Iowa, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Analysts are already preparing to declare the Tea Party dead or, in the alternative, to write the inevitable “Republicans pull defeat from the jaws of victory” storyline.
This is a tough column for me to write, because I agree with the general principle that Tea Party challenges have cost the Republican Party winnable races. I also agree that, over the long haul, there is an advantage for a party that nominates experienced candidates, who are less likely to see their candidacies implode over unforced errors. So to be completely up front and clear: This shouldn’t be read as a generalized apologia for the Tea Party.
This is instead offered as a corrective to a narrative that has seemingly gotten out of control, and lost all sense of nuance. When evaluating Tea Party challenges, I think there are four facts that have been lost in the conventional wisdom.