The conventional wisdom among the mainstream media is that the Republican establishment would strike back during the 2012 election, thereby blunting the influence of the conservative Tea Party movement which propelled the party to historic gains in the 2010 midterm elections. Implied in this chatter is that the power and influence of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, seen by many as the figure who can best mobilize the Tea Party movement into action, would fade as well.
But recent events in Indiana, Nebraska, and Texas have shown that this conventional wisdom is false.
On May 8, six-term establishment Republican Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary in Indiana to Richard Mourdock, who had been backed by various Tea Party groups and organizations. Mourdock trounced Lugar, receiving 60 percent of the vote to Lugar’s 40.
Mourdock had strong backing from the grassroots, but it was Palin’s endorsement days before the primary that effectively administered the coup de grace to Lugar and the GOP establishment. Four hours after Palin’s endorsement, the establishment Republican group, American Action Network, which had pledged to spend nearly $600,000 for Lugar in the last days of the election, saw the writing on the wall and abruptly pulled out of Indiana.
Last Wednesday in Nebraska, Palin endorsed state Senator Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) in the Nebraska GOP Senate primary over establishment Republican Jon Bruning and Don Stenberg. Fischer had the support of various grassroots conservative groups statewide, but many national conservative groups, such as FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, and the Senate Conservatives Fund, had spent millions of dollars supporting Stenberg. Many of these groups, especially FreedomWorks, found a potential Bruning nomination to be abhorrent.
Just days after Palin’s endorsement, which gave the Fischer campaign the statewide name identification it craved, Fischer surged in the polls, taking votes from Bruning and Stenberg, and is now within the margin of error before Tuesday’s primary. Palin’s endorsement seems to have coalesced the anti-establishment and anti-Bruning forces around Fischer.
And in Texas, in the Senate primary between the moderate and establishment Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and the conservative former Solicitor General Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Cruz had been steadily gaining momentum from the many conservative politicians and organizations that had endorsed him, dating back to last year. Groups such as FreedomWorks and Senators like Jim DeMint, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) have implored conservatives to get behind Cruz’s candidacy.
But even though he had cut Dewhurst’s lead in the polls in half over the course of the year, Cruz still trailed him by 12 points in the most recent poll conducted.
Then, last Thursday, Palin endorsed Cruz and gave the campaign more statewide buzz and name identification. Cruz’s Campaign Manager John Drogin told Breitbart News that the difference in intensity before and after Palin’s endorsement is like the difference in the temperature of Venus and the Sun, respectively.
“Phones are ringing off the hook, volunteers are signing up, and social networks are buzzing,” Drogin said.
Based on the boost Mourdock and Fischer received immediately after Palin’s endorsement, Cruz will probably get a similar surge in his poll numbers as Texas begins its early voting period today leading up to the May 31st primary.
Contrary to the what is being said among the chattering class, the anti-establishment sentiment, especially among the Tea Party, remains strong on the right. And Palin is still the figure most likely to galvanize the grassroots to achieve tangible results at the ballot box against establishment Republican candidates.