GOP split breaking down, tea party power wanes

It's too early to say the tea party's over.
AP Wire
May 11, 2014

But with a Senate majority in reach, the Republican Party and its allies are using campaign cash, positions of influence and other levers of power to defuse what they consider challenges by weak conservative candidates before the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race. The party is cherry picking other candidates, including some who rode the tea party wave to a House majority in 2010. Some of those lawmakers are getting boosts from the very establishment the class vowed to upend.

It all adds up to an expensive and sweeping effort by national and state Republicans to blur the dividing line between factions that many believe cost the GOP the Senate majority and prolonged the 2012 presidential nomination fight. "We can't expect to win if we are fighting each other all the time," said Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.

This year, Republicans are within six seats of controlling the Senate. If they win Senate control and keep their House majority, even deeper frustrations would await President Barack Obama in his final two years in office.

By changing rules at the presidential level and showering money and support on candidates in North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan and more states, Republican leaders are trying to drum out tea party-approved candidates they consider flawed — like ones who were seen as costing the GOP winnable Senate seats in Delaware, Missouri and Nevada in recent years.

"It makes sense to get control of the process," said Borges, who was attending the national Republicans' meeting in Memphis this week where officials were rewriting the rules on presidential debates.

Merging the factions is uncomfortable for all sides, and weighted heavily in favor of the well-financed and organized Republican Party, its state affiliates and allied groups like the Chamber of Commerce. In contrast, the tea party is a loosely affiliated group of conservative activists — some who now call themselves the "liberty movement" — who favor smaller government and a balanced budget. Public favor is waning for the firebrands, polls find. And as the Republican Party calculates how to cull the best of the tea party's candidates and energy, the activists are trying to figure out what they've won in the four-year-long struggle for control of the GOP.

Establishment candidates now "run on our message; they run as populists," said Daniel Horowitz of the conservative Madison Project, which has endorsed candidates in more than a dozen GOP primaries. "In one sense, it's frustration on our part. On the other, it shows that we're winning."

Said Matt Kibbe, whose FreedomWorks PAC opposes the re-election bids of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi: "We organize grassroots to change the behavior of the people already in office. That's the whole point of participating in the primary process."

Public opinion suggests that some voters have tired of the tea party's cut-it-or-shut-it approach to governing after years of crises in which House conservatives' refusal to compromise brought the nation to the brink of a default and helped drive a partial government shutdown. A Gallup survey out Thursday found that about four in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents classify themselves as supporters of the tea party, down from more than six in 10 — a high-water mark — in November 2010.

The Gallup survey follows an AP-GfK poll in March that found about one in five Americans supports the tea party, a modest improvement from public approval of the movement at the height of the government shutdown in October.

Looking ahead to 2016's presidential race, Republican officials meeting in Memphis are trying to figure out how to prevent a nominating contest that leaves an establishment-favored candidate battling tea party-styled longshots. Republican National Committee members are rewriting rules to shorten the nomination period and limit the number of debates.

An RNC panel on Thursday recommended a 13-member committee that would pick debate hosts and limit how many can take place. Candidates who participate in rogue forums would be banned from attending future, RNC-sanctioned debates.

The full RNC was set to take up the measure on Friday.

In effect, the tighter rules would make it more difficult for an outsider or under-funded candidate to find success.

In 2012, strong debate performances kept tea party-favored candidates such as Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain in the running well past their viability. In all, 20 media-sponsored debates kept eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney occupied fending off challengers well into the election year, rather than focusing early on Obama. In 2016, the goal would be for six to 10 debates before February or March.

"They're better off in the system," Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan GOP, said of the political insurgents. "Just look at how the tea party has integrated within the RNC. They started out driven by anger but the best of them became part of the party."

Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek is one embraced by the establishment's allies. The 2010 firebrand who broke the Democrats' two-decade-old hold on his House seat won with 52 percent of the vote in part by slamming President Barack Obama's "socialist agenda." Benishek barely won re-election two years later. And in 2014, he's the star of an ad paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Dan Benishek deserves our support," intones the narrator.

In the House and Senate contests, there's recent evidence that the Republican Party and their allied groups are winning the political tug of war.

In North Carolina on Tuesday, state House speaker Thom Tillis easily coasted past the 40 percent threshold for securing the nomination without a runoff with his challengers, who had cast him as a tool of the GOP establishment. In Ohio, House Speaker John Boehner shellacked his primary opponent despite being attacked as the very face of the deal-making powers.

In Tennessee, a challenge from the right came to nothing against Sen. Lamar Alexander. In South Carolina, class of 2010 Rep. Mick Mulvaney opted for a plum seat on the Financial Services Committee over a challenge to the deal-making Sen. Lindsey Graham and his $7 million campaign war chest. And in Michigan, establishment Republicans are piling behind a GOP opponent to Rep. Justin Amash, another 2010 tea partyer.

In Kentucky, home of tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul, McConnell is cruising toward a decisive victory over conservative challenger Matt Bevin, after Bevin spoke at a rally organized to legalize cockfighting in the state.

Even Tea Party Nation, part of the loosely connected movement, is endorsing McConnell in the May 20th primary.

"Bevin is such a bad candidate that it makes it impossible not to support McConnell," wrote founder Judson Phillips, a former Tennessee prosecutor, in an email to supporters.

Comments

JohnShea

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Lengthy excerpts from other websites.

Mystic Michael

The Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves, for having cynically tried to exploit the "stupid power" of the Tea Party Torch & Pitchfork Brigade. Now that the Hoogies have been invited into the house, they're tracking mud all over the nice white shag carpeting...and they won't leave.

skyking007

The Republican/ T-Party party has no values. they turn their back on the sick, the old, the working people and the poor. One moment they want to secede from the union and the next they want to run the country. They back big business that ships jobs overseas and don't care about clean air or water. A once proud party, they have become a threat to American freedom.

Wolverine49457

The T.E.A. party never had any power in the first place it's a movement that scared the daylights out of progressives hence the infantile name calling.
The people are still there and still pull levers so keep on calling them stupid and pitch fork wielding hayseeds and you’ll win them over for sure!
From the abundance of your heart the mouth shall speak; You talk as though you know what the movement is or was about and yet you fail to recognize the movement was not popular because it was yet another mob lobbing insults at the easy target that is the democrat party. The movement gained traction because if finally (on a large scale) responded to the angst of many conservatives who are disgusted with a party that has filled its power ranks with progressives such as, Boehner, Graham and McCain to name a few. Once rid of Republicrats or what we used to call RINO’s the party will once again sell itself and find the votes to tamp down this latest of socialist movement in America…so keep up the good work at alienating yourself from the majority of voters BTW, the internet is full of all sorts of adjectives to hurl at those that do not think like you and I’m sure for those that do not look like you as well.

Mystic Michael

I know precisely what the Tea Party "movement" is - and it's not some kind of spontaneous uprising of "patriots". It's a corporate astroturf insurgency, bought and paid for by the likes of "Americans for Prosperity", "FreedomWorks", and other venal corporate front groups channeling millions of corporate dollars into an effort to exploit the ignorance, prejudice and rage of mostly white, middle-aged, lower middle class & working class conservatives who can't stand the thought of a black man siting in the Oval Office. Who do you think financed the building of all the websites? Or paid for the start-up organizing, outreach & publicity? Or bought all the funny costumes, and all those funny-looking hats with the tea bags dangling from them?

When you have a bunch of rabble screaming "Socialist!" at every opportunity, against a President who has: 1) appointed Tim Geithner & Larry Summers to key economic posts in his Cabinet; 2) bailed out the Wall Street banks; 3) refused to pursue any serious prosecution of the Wall Street criminals who nearly brought down the entire global economy; 4) given the healthcare insurance companies whatever they wanted without even trying for a single-payer system, or even a public option; 5) willingly agreed to give zillionaires even greater tax cuts than they received from George Bush; 6) talked openly of a "chained CPI' approach to cutting federal earned benefits programs; and 7) tried to implement TPP behind our backs - the most ambitious, audacious global corporate power grab in world history, it's clear that these geniuses have no clue about what the word "socialist" even means - and that they're not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer, if you catch my drift.

As you yourself have just characterized John Boehner, Lindsay Graham, and John McCain as "progressive", it's clear that even you have no idea of what "progressive" really means.

We can agree on one thing, however. I really think you should continue your war on the Republicans. Purge the Party of all the remaining "moderates". Drag what's left of the Party just as far right as you can take it. Drag it right over the edge, in fact. Go nuts. Because as we all know, the only thing wrong with Republican dogma is that it isn't extreme enough, and it doesn't go far enough.

Boater

So you are recommending that the GOP do exactly what the democrats have done?????
The democrats have gone so far left, they are going to take a beating this fall.
The Conservatives do need a voice, whether they are Dems or GOP and they are allowed to voice their ideas, concerns, an opinions.

Mystic Michael

Whether or not conservatives should be "allowed" to express themselves is irrelevant - because the First Amendment clearly states that they should. The issue is whether right-wingers really have anything to offer - other than a three-week government shutdown that nearly led to a default on the national debt, 50 meaningless votes to repeal the ACA, pursuit of several pointless partisan witch hunts in search of Administration "scandals" that clearly don't exist, and numerous other priceless gems.

Mystic Michael

- delete -

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