Republican Establishment vs. Tea Party

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The Republican Establishment, and their enablers, are cheering over the Tea Party loss in the last round of Republican primaries. Thom Tillis, Speaker of the House in North Carolina, handily defeated three more conservative candidates in the US Senate primary to see who opposes Senator Kay Hagen in November.

First of all, let us note that losing a primary to an incumbent or a well-known opponent isn’t all that big a deal. You’re going to lose most of them, even if the incumbent isn’t particularly popular. See John Boehner’s recent victory.

In Tillis case, the Establishment making hay is even sillier. He ran against three candidates, and he needed to break 40% in order to avoid a run-off, and he did that handily at just over 45%. Tillis had significantly more resources – money and organization – than all three put together.

In second place was Greg Brannon with 27%. Brannon was ostensibly the “Tea Party” candidate even though the Tea Parties pretty much stayed on the sidelines. In third was a local pastor, Mark Harris, who drew 17% of the vote. Brannon got endorsements from Tea Parties and from luminaries like Rand Paul and Mike Lee. What he didn’t get was money or organizational help.

Harris, pastor of a large Baptist church in Charlotte and a leader in the state’s Baptist organizations, was well known and ran on a repeal of ObamaCare and the standard variety of socially conservative issues you’d expect from a Rick Santorum clone with a slight southern accent.

The fourth candidate, known only to his mother, got about 10% of the vote.

Tillis is certainly the least conservative of the lot, but he should beat Hagen come November.

For all the Establishment celebration, Tillis couldn’t break 50% and if the primary candidates really wanted to take him out, they would have agreed on one opponent. If we were Tillis supporters we’d certainly be celebrating the victory, but we certainly wouldn’t be hollering about the death of the Tea Party.

Which brings us to next Tuesday.

The Republican primary in Nebraska is next Tuesday. Once again we’ve got a “Tea Party” candidate, Ben Sasse, who has the support of regional Tea Parties and endorsements from Mike Lee and Ted Cruz among others. He’s running against the Establishment favorite Shane Osborne, who has the whole hearted support of Mitch McConnell, and Sid Dinsdale who is Democrat in Republican clothes.

Sasse’s campaign started to gain momentum when he staunchly opposed Obamacare and blasted the Washington establishment for not fighting fiercely enough to defund it. That angered McConnell, who has backed Osborn, and groups that have falsely attacked Sasse on the Obamacare issue. Citizens United, though, ran a commercial for Sasse that featured Lee, the architect of the defund-Obamacare strategy, vouching for Sasse’s conservatism and opposition to Obamacare.

“Don’t be fooled by false attacks against conservative Ben Sasse,” Lee says in the ad. “Ben Sasse has always opposed Obamacare. Period.”

Dinsdale has recently been assailed as a “counterfeit conservative” for having donated to liberal Democrats. His family members have had prominent positions with Planned Parenthood, and Dinsdale has said that he would always vote to raise the debt. He has also taken the position that pro-life issues are not worth fighting for right now.

So this race is shaping up as an “anti-Washington” candidate against McConnell’s anointed and a guy who makes John McCain look like a conservative’s dream candidate.

Megellian Strategies just completed a poll of the race and Sasse is at 38%, holding a 14 point lead over Dinsdale at 24% and McConnell’s boy at 20%. This is a “no run-off” primary, the winner is the Republican nominee.

One week ago Sasse’s lead was six. An ad buy tying Dinsdale to his record and pointing out that Osborne is Mitch’s boy. Shine the light of truth and the Tea Party favorite surges by eight points one week before election day.

Obviously, we’ll know the result tomorrow, but we expect Sasse to pull out a clear win and we can’t wait to hear the whining from the same people who pronounced the Tea Party dead and gone just a week ago.

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