Politico: Tea Party Challenge to GOP Senators an 'Expensive Headache'

In his Saturday Playbook email, Politico’s Mike Allen defended GOP establishment Senators like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander and others facing Tea Party challengers as up against nothing more than an “expensive headache” they will defeat.

Allen, a denizen of D.C. political establishment, highlighted two news stories to make his point: One from the New York Times, and the other from the Associated Press. The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauser reported with Jonathan Weisman on the front page of the Gray Lady on Saturday that “[d]espite their careful efforts, some of the best-known and most influential Republicans in the Senate have been unable to shake threats from the right and have attracted rivals who portray these lawmakers as a central part of the problem in Washington.”

“In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, the party's Senate leader, is fending off a charismatic and wealthy conservative challenger,” they wrote, referring to businessman Matt Bevin’s candidacy against McConnell.

They also referred to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as a “reliably conservative voice on foreign policy” while noting that he has drawn three primary challengers: State Sen. Lee Bright, businesswoman and graduate of The Citadel Nancy Mace and conservative activist and computer programmer Richard Cash.

"In South Carolina, Lindsey Graham , one of the Senate's most reliably conservative voices on foreign policy, is being painted by primary opponents as a veritable clone of President Obama,” the New York Times reporters wrote.

“In Tennessee, Tea Party activists have vowed to take out Lamar Alexander,” they added. State Rep. Joe Carr has announced his candidacy there, and other potential candidates may soon get involved. A grass-roots "Beat Lamar" effort is sponsoring candidate forums throughout the states. 

Politico’s Allen also cited the Associated Press’ Erik Schelzig and Ken Thomas, who together wrote about how the GOP establishment incumbents like McConnell, Graham and Alexander have built massive war chests of campaign money to attack their Tea Party challengers. 

The AP writers reported that Alexander and McConnell have used scorched-earth defensive tactics to protect themselves from the Tea Party. “Call it the Revenge of the Incumbents: Alexander is the latest Senate Republican staring down a primary challenge with aggressive tactics aimed at blunting any early momentum from tea party-backed opposition,” they wrote. “The early moves seek to avoid the fate of former Senate colleagues who were bounced by tea party challengers in 2010 and 2012. In Kentucky, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has scorched challenger Matt Bevin with stinging ads accusing him of accepting government bailouts to help his family business and embellishing his academic background. Bevin, with help from tea party supporters, has responded with his own accusations, labeling the Senate leader ‘Mudslinging Mitch’ and tarring him for supporting the Wall Street bailout in 2008.”

While Graham has yet to target any of his three Tea Party primary challengers, the AP writers note he has the money to do so.

“South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has drawn criticism from conservatives for pushing immigration reform, has raised more than $6 million for his re-election and could be helped by a crowded primary field that includes three conservative opponents,” they wrote.

The AP reporters apparently don't understand that South Carolina uses a run-off system for its primary elections. If a candidate fails to receive 50% of the vote, the top two voter-getters face off in a run-off. A crowded primary field makes it more likely that Graham fails to receive 50% of the vote. 

While each of those stories, from the AP and the New York Times, are interesting in their own right, Politico’s Mike Allen takes them and then cites anonymous establishment sources to declare preemptively that the establishment GOP senators will survive, and the Tea Party will lose. Allen peddled this conventional wisdom in a section of his morning Playbook email he called “PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE.”

“Conversations with the best-wired Republicans suggest the N.Y. Times take is right about the short term, while AP is more correct about the long run: The primary challengers are definitely an expensive headache -- and will be a distraction during a crazy fall at the Capitol,” Allen wrote. “But if McConnell loses, it'll be in the general (and still remote chance), not the primary. Graham could get a scare in the primary, but is expected to survive.”

Of course the establishment, what Allen calls the "best-wired Republicans," is going to say the establishment is going to win. But Allen fails to recognize that.

Sure, Allen might be right in the end on all of or some of these candidacies. Conservative insurgency candidates need to overcome a lot more hurdles than establishment folks. But for Allen to preemptively declare the Tea Party movement dead seems a bit of a stretch. We’ll see what happens in the end. Remember when they said Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee were never going to win?


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