The pundit class and the GOP establishment currently are engaged in massive “concern trolling” over the possibility that Republican voters will elect conservatives in party primaries. Karl Rove, the US Chamber of Commerce and other special interests have vowed to spend whatever it takes to prevent citizens from nominating the “wrong” candidates. Setting aside the conceit that these interests know better than voters who should represent them, are these concerns even valid?
The establishment’s argument is based on three things: 1) Rep. Todd Akin (MO), 2) Sharron Angle (NV), and 3) Christine O’Donnell (DE). Granted, these campaigns were train wrecks, but it isn’t as simple a narrative as the Tea Party ousting more electable candidates. In Missouri and Nevada, the Tea Party was largely divided among two other candidates, allowing Akin and Angle to sneak through. Grass roots activists across the country did rally behind O’Donnell in the final days of the campaign, but she was only successful because Rep. Mike Castle, the GOP frontrunner, had arrogantly not really campaigned for the nomination.
That said, let’s tally these races as arguments for the GOP establishment against conservatives. If these races had flipped, or stayed, Republican, the party would have 48 seats, very close to a majority.
But, what is the GOP establishment track-record?
In 2012, the GOP got its pick of candidates in several states. The party was able to fend off primary challenges and rally behind the “most electable” candidate. These included: Linda McMahon (CT), Denny Rehberg (MT), Tommy Thompson (WI), George Allen (VA), Connie Mack (FL), Heather Wilson (NM), Josh Mandell (OH), Pete Hoekstra (MI) and Linda Lingle (HI). These nine candidates had the “moderate” records that voters purportedly prefer. They each had enormous resources to wage successful campaigns. Had these “electable candidates” won, the GOP would be in the majority now with 54 seats.
In 2010, the GOP establishment lost winnable seats in California, with Carly Fiorina, and Washington, with Dino Rossi. If the GOP establishment truly knew the “special sauce” to win campaigns, the party would have 56 seats in the Senate now, even allowing for the seats where the “tea party” supported “flawed” candidates.
So, even accepting the tenuous argument that the “tea party” cost the Republicans 3-5 seats, the GOP establishment lost 11. One could easily argue that the Tea Party needs to step-up its involvement in primaries to prevent the Republican party from continuing to nominate “moderate” candidates who can’t win. The last two GOP presidential nominees have been “electable moderates” who so failed to inspire actual voters that they lost very winnable races.
Also, keep in mind that the GOP establishment lost a House majority in 2006. Only on the strength of the Tea Party and conservative grass roots was it able to win it back in 2010.
One needs look no further than the recent Virginia Governor’s race to understand the complete failure of the GOP establishment and consultant class. Fearing he was “too conservative” for the Commonwealth, Ken Cuccinelli’s advisors, fresh off the Romney campaign, spent weeks running ads about Ken’s work on mental health issues and homelessness. He also spent precious time rebutting bogus charges about the GOP “war on women.” At first a few points behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe, he soon faced a double-digit deficit. McAuliffe looked to be on the cusp of a landslide victory.
They, Cuccinelli remembered ObamaCare. In the final two weeks of the campaign, Cuccinelli stressed his early opposition to ObamaCare. He ended his campaign with a very conservative message. On election night, he surprised the political world with an extremely narrow loss. Had he seized on the conservative message against ObamaCare a week earlier, who knows how the election would have been decided.
The entire argument against the “Tea Party” from the GOP establishment is an attempt to excuse their unbelievable failure in 2012. The Republicans squandered more than $1 billion on the most winnable Presidential race in modern history. They had a deep slate of “electable” Senate candidates who all went down to defeat. Rather than accepting responsibility for their failure, GOP consultants are pointing fingers at conservatives, trying to distract the attention of their donors. Malpractice is too mild a word for their performance in 2012.
Personal responsibility used to be a plank of the Republican philosophy. For the pundit and consultant class, that value clearly applies only to other people.