In this year’s Republican Senate primaries, the establishment went full nuclear on grassroots candidates and the voters that supported them, burning bridges with committed activists and engaging in shameful Democrat tactics to slander TEA Party candidates along with anyone who worked with them or for them. The ostensible reason for this absurd, scorched-earth campaign was the stated belief that TEA Party campaigns had cost Republicans possible victories, and with a Republican Senate majority in sight, we could not afford to throw away winnable seats.
In the first place, this narrative has always been factually spurious. Todd Akin and Sharron Angle were not TEA Party candidates in any meaningful sense, although their mistakes have been pinned on the TEA Party by an overeager establishment. Christine O’Donnell and Richard Mourdock were, and their missteps were no doubt costly. But their records and campaigns were no more damaging or embarrassing than unquestioned establishment candidates who lost seats in red states that we still haven’t won back, like Ted Stevens (whose seat we are having to fight tooth and nail to reclaim this year), Conrad Burns (whose seat we still haven’t won back), George Allen (ditto), Denny Rehberg, Connie Mack (lost an embarrassing landslide in a winnable race in Florida), and on and on.
Here we are again, this time with two candidates the Establishment backed heavily against TEA Party challengers, running campaigns in deep red states in what appears to be a potential wave election for the GOP. And both Pat Roberts and David Perdue are in deep trouble, forcing the Republicans to spend a ton of money and energy to save their flagging campaigns, when this money could be spent elsewhere on the offensive:
The GOP’s political machine is kicking into overdrive to save a Senate seat in Kansas that’s suddenly complicating its path to the majority.
With polls showing Sen. Pat Roberts in serious trouble against independent Greg Orman, top Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, are leaning on big-ticket donors to fill the long-time Kansas senator’s campaign coffers. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona are planning to barnstorm the state on Roberts’ behalf. And in a bid to boost the senator’s sagging poll numbers, the Roberts campaign is planning an ad blitz to cast his long record and seniority in Washington in a more positive light.
Likewise David Perdue appears to be unable to shake the walking target-rich environment that is Michelle Nunn in the polls, which is going to force a ton of spending on this race before it is all over.
The establishment likes to point out that TEA Party candidates can be bad and unprepared candidates who make missteps in the general election. This I guess is true but the evidence does not suggest that they are any more so than establishment candidates – who have a long and storied history of their own missteps. This is especially true in this era, when voter disgust with politicians who are out of touch and who pander to lobbyists are at an all-time high; the “seasoned politicians” may well be categorically more vulnerable electorally than the fresh faces of the TEA Party.
But the sad thing about this is, even if both Roberts and Perdue lose, expect the establishment to learn nothing from the experience. Despite a lengthy history of long-term incumbent Republicans getting tossed out on their ears in red state general elections due to corruption and disconnection from their home state, they will still insist loudly and publicly that the safest path to more Republican seats is to continue electing the seasoned guy and the incumbent. It’s up to voters and donors to stop buying this obviously false argument.