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“Defeat Has A Thousand Fathers”: If A Majority Leader Loses And Everyone Hears It, Who Made The Sound?

If a towering incumbent falls in the forest and no national groups were around to push him, who deserves the credit? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning, historic defeat last night raises the question again of what exactly is the tea party. It’s fair to characterize Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat as a tea party candidate, but at the same time analysts, activists and lawmakers should remember that included in the universe of people who had no idea this was coming (excepting U.S. News’ Peter Roff) were the national groups that pass for the tea party movement’s establishment.

There’s a tendency to refer to the tea party movement as a homogenous, monolithic enterprise, but the fact remains that there is no “tea party.” Lest I be accused of trying to undercut the conservative insurgent movement, I will note that this is a point I made when “tea party” candidates were getting routed in the Texas and North Carolina senate primaries; movement obituaries should be tempered, I argued then, because the major tea party groups hadn’t shown up for those fights. They showed up in Kentucky in force and lost. They showed up in Mississippi and won. And I would make the same point about South Carolina, where Sen. Lindsey Graham – who is a much more vocal immigration reform supporter than Cantor – cruised to an easy victory last night: Don’t draw too many conclusions from races where one or both sides in the fight declined to engage. “The tea party” isn’t dead because Lindsey Graham is alive any more than it is resurgent because Eric Cantor went down.

Which brings us back to the national groups, which were apparently as oblivious as the rest of us to what was happening in the Richmond area leading up to yesterday’s election.  The Washington Post’s Matea Gold made this point last night, noting that the major tea party groups spent a grand total of nothing on Brat’s behalf:

But it’s worth noting that many of the national tea party groups that have been the most pugilistic about this year’s intra-party fights have not invested much money into helping the candidates on the ground. As we reported earlier this year, organizations such as Tea Party Patriots and the Madison Project are spending huge sums on fundraising, salaries and consultants, while just putting a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars they have raised into political expenditures.

The fact that Brat took off without the help of those organizations now makes it harder for them to claim his victory as their own.

And National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher made the same observation last night, including this damning anecdote about Jenny Beth Martin, the chief of the aforementioned Tea Party Patriots:

In an extensive interview with National Journal earlier Tuesday, Martin did not mention the Cantor race as among the tea party’s top opportunities in 2014. Hours after his defeat, however, Martin issued a triumphant statement congratulating Brat and “the local tea-party activists who helped propel him over the top.”

Certainly the local tea party activists deserve some measure of congratulations. But what remains honestly unclear – whether you’re sympathetic to the GOP establishment or to the tea party insurgency – is what it means nationally. And what does that say about the national party movement and groups like Tea Party Patriots? Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo told National Journal’s Goldmacher that Cantor’s defeat was a sign of the movement’s strength: “They can strike anywhere. It’s not dependent on a top-down direction.” So where does that leave the top end of that equation? Leading from behind?

To flip the old JFK aphorism around, Eric Cantor’s defeat may have a thousand fathers (and mothers). Political observers would be wise to discern which ones are actually legitimate.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 11, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Conservative Isn’t Conservative Enough”: A Signal To The GOP Base That Even The Radicals Aren’t Radical Enough

With Sen. Tom Coburn (R) retiring at the end of the year, well ahead of the scheduled end of his term, there will be a Senate special election in Oklahoma in 2014. Given the fact that the Sooner State is one of the “reddest” in the nation, it’s very likely the seat will remain in Republican hands. The question is which Republican.

Rep. Tom Cole (R) and state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) quickly withdrew from consideration, but Rep. James Lankford (R) launched his campaign yesterday, vowing in his announcement speech to “continue Dr. Coburn’s conservative legacy.”

In theory, the right-wing congressman, elected in the 2010 GOP wave, would appear to be exactly the kind of candidate far-right activists would hope for. Conservative groups don’t quite see it that way.

[T]he Senate Conservatives Fund, a key pressure group, took the stark step Monday morning of saying – even before Mr. Lankford’s official announcement – that he will not be getting their support.

“We won’t support Congressman Lankford’s bid for the Senate because of his past votes to increase the debt limit, raise taxes and fund Obamacare,” said Matt Hoskins, the group’s executive director. […]

The Madison Project, another group that directs attention and money to the campaigns of anti-Washington candidates, said Mr. Lankford is the wrong candidate for the party. In a blog post, the group said Mr. Lankford isn’t a “purely liberal Republican,” but said he is “a quintessential status quo Republican.”

This isn’t an intra-party dynamic in which the Republican base rejects an electable, mainstream candidate, boosting Democratic chances of picking up a competitive seat.

Rather, this is the latest evidence that for GOP-affiliated organizations hoping to influence elections, being conservative is no longer conservative enough.

To hear the Senate Conservatives Fund and its allies tell it, Lankford is some kind of RINO. I poked around the ThinkProgress archive this morning to get a sense of some of the congressman’s greatest hits and found a few gems:

* Lankford believes sexual orientation is a “choice,” so employment discrimination against gay Americans should be legal.

* He believes climate change is a “myth,” pushed by those seeking to “control” people.

* He blamed “welfare moms” for gun violence.

* He wants the United States to defund and abandon the United Nations.

The Senate Conservatives Fund and its allies think this guy just isn’t conservative enough. Perhaps some folks are just tough to please.

In the larger context, though, the organizations’ dissatisfaction with James Lankford does help explain the growing tensions between the Republican Party and these extremist outside groups. When this congressman can’t meet the activist groups’ standards for conservatism, it signals to GOP leaders that there’s simply no point in trying to cater to their demands – even radicals won’t be seen as radical enough.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 21, 2014

January 24, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Right Wing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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