Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Getting what they wished for?


The Republican Party's big players must have been ecstatic three years ago when they thought they had found a new group of campaign workers and contributors who would support the party's establishment.

Who cares that those new people wanted to carry signs like "keep your socialist hands off my Medicare." Even if these people were members of something called the tea party, insiders believed them to be motivated Republicans who would fall into line at election time.

What a misreading. Look at what happened in 2010. As the Republicans were preparing to gain control of the U.S. Senate, their dreams were shattered when tea party candidate Sharon Angle—she of the Second Amendment Solution—was defeated by weak Democrat Harry Reid in Nevada. Also, remember when "I-am-not-a-witch" Christine O'Donnell, who beat moderate Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware Republican primary, lost to Democrat Chris Coons in the general election.

For the tea party, losses at the polls are disappointing but are far less important to them than maintaining ideological purity. Today's mainstream Republicans are discovering that the last thing their supposed new friends are interested in is going along for the sake of winning elections.

The devil's bargain for the Republicans is most evident in the primary challenges faced by Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Both from solidly Republican states, both incumbents for decades, both with solid conservative voting records—yet both are facing serious primary challenges.

Hatch's support of the State Children's Health Insurance Program and his admission that he personally likes President Obama are sins for which he is called two-faced. Instead of contributing to the Republican standard bearer, the tea party right has given $6 million to defeat him.

On the tea-party scale, Indiana's Richard Lugar is considered to be on the left wing. Not only has Lugar taken seriously his role as a senator in confirming judges appointed by the president, he has shared with President Obama his vast knowledge of foreign affairs. Lugar has dedicated himself to recover nuclear weapons from the hands of old Soviet Republics and to destroy them. The tea party sees his work with Democrats as capitulation.

Next week, we'll discover whether Hatch will continue as a senator from Utah or whether, as in the case of his Republican colleague Bob Bennett in 2010, the fringe will prevail. We will know whether long-term Republicans control the party or whether the activists they once saw as a resource have become their worst nightmare.




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