Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

And the Winner of the GOP’s Civil War Primary Is…Part II

Mike Simpson

Simpson was a top target this cycle. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Three and a half months ago, I wrote about the state of the fight between the Republican establishment’s pragmatic conservative candidates and tea party/libertarian/anti-establishment conservatives.

I concluded the results were mixed and it was too early to call a winner, though I also noted, “it’s already clear that the pragmatist conservatives have stopped the anti-establishment’s electoral momentum.”

Now that this cycle’s version of the fight is almost over, it’s time for a final assessment.

There was no knockout or TKO, but pragmatic conservatives won a clear and convincing decision on points.

Anti-establishment conservatives will point to Ben Sasse in Nebraska and Tom Cotton in Arkansas to argue that their allies made it to the general election and will win in November, and they can cite plenty of House races where tea party and libertarian types are locks to be victorious in the fall.

But in races where the GOP establishment made a stand, few anti-establishment types proved successful.

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, North Carolina Senate hopeful Thom Tillis, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell all won competitive primaries against insurgents. Tillis and Graham also avoided runoffs.

In the nastiest primary, Mississippi’s Thad Cochran defeat of Chris McDaniel in the runoff was stunning, considering the normal dynamic of those kinds of contests. The six-term incumbent never would have succeeded without the help of establishment strategists and operatives, both in the state and nationally.

Long shot anti-establishment primary challenges against Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander also fell short. And while Rep. Jack Kingston’s loss in the Georgia GOP Senate runoff was a defeat for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, anti-establishment conservatives in the Peach State didn’t care for Kingston or the party’s eventual nominee, David Perdue.

In Oklahoma, Rep. James Lankford, a conservative who has worked with his party’s House leadership rather than against it, defeated former Oklahoma Speaker T.W. Shannon. Shannon had been endorsed by Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Cruz even did a TV spot for Shannon.

Unlike the past two cycles, when Republican primary voters sent Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Colorado’s Ken Buck, Nevada’s Sharron Angle and, eventually, Indiana’s Richard Mourdock to slaughter in general elections, this time GOP primary voters stuck with safer choices, nominating Senate candidates who had the backing of the party’s establishment.

But while the pragmatists fared well in high-profile contests where the establishment invested heavily, anti-establishment conservative candidates won plenty of House primaries and took an uncomfortably large percentage of the vote in many Senate contests they lost.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Georgia Rep. Paul Broun won’t be returning to the next Congress, but freshmen such as Georgia’s Barry Loudermilk and Jody Hice, Alabama’s Gary Palmer, Wisconsin’s Glenn Grothman and Minnesota’s Tom Emmer will join a core of anti-establishment conservatives who already make it difficult for the GOP House leadership.

And while pragmatic, pro-business Republicans certainly have the right to be relieved that they swept Senate primaries, they should not forget that Chris McDaniel drew just under half of the runoff vote, Milton Wolf drew 41 percent of the vote against Roberts and Joe Carr drew almost 41 percent against incumbent Alexander.

The not inconsequential showings by deeply flawed candidates like McDaniel, Wolf and Carr confirm what we all know: the GOP is at war with itself, and that won’t end in November, no matter how well the party does in the midterm elections.

In fact, that division certainly will play out over the next two years, as Republican presidential hopefuls maneuver through the primary and caucus process and compete for their party’s presidential nomination.

National anti-establishment groups in the coalition ought to be disappointed that they failed to take out even one targeted incumbent (national groups played no role in the defeat of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor).

But those groups, which include the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund, are unlikely to simply end their warfare against the establishment — especially when they can point to successes (which they say include Nebraska and Arkansas) and near-misses. And if Tillis or McConnell lose in November, you can bet anti-establishment groups will argue that their preferred candidates would have won those contests.

So, the end of this cycle’s primaries marks the end of one battle, not the entire war. And at some point, that’s once again likely to help Democrats.

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  • Layla

    As long as our borders remain wide open, I can’t think of a single Member of Congress who deserves reelection in November.

  • Kathy Adamski

    Being from south Carolina and among the majority who wanted desperately to see Graham exit, I attribute his predictable win against 5 other candidates in the Republican primary, to the money bag held and doled out by King Karl Rove. Those who want to be part of beltway politics, money, power, and illicit sex, have to play the rules according to the elite, which means voting for underhanded, stupid laws and regulations and giving away our freedoms to the socialists across the aisle, which they would probably choose anyway, out of arrogance, having no moral foundation or concern for their constituents.

    • View From The Left

      Just for you, Kathy Adamski:

      • Leonine

        Are you Michael Wiener, the Russophile?

        • View From The Left

          Yes, even though I died on August 2, 2009, this is me posting from the grave.

    • Layla

      Pffft…….you expect Rove to care about constituents? Svengali is being paid a fortune by GOP leadership to run their campaigns. When Rove stepped in, the party went to the dogs.

  • ConCave

    “Republican establishment’s pragmatic conservative candidates and tea party/libertarian/anti-establishment conservatives.”

    Let’s help the author out, shall we?
    The “republican establishment” is neither conservative, nor pragmatic…
    The “republican establishment” has shifted left, with roots firmly planted in corporatism, and “go along to get along” -letting the progressives do their dirty work – as they play out “Good Cop/Bad Cop. Both are but one elitist ruling class.
    The Tea Party Conservatives are the only pragmatic adults in the room, with roots firmly planted in upholding the constitution, and fighting for freedom and liberty from an out of control tyrannical government.
    Definition of liberty…..The maximum absence of coercion….
    Is individual freedom and liberty increasing or decreasing?
    4 out of 5 pragmatic conservatives would agree that we are losing liberty to
    an overreaching ineffectual leviathan that doesn’t represent “We the People”

    • Denisa Offord

      if we the people means stands for religion you are seriously misinformed. The teabillies are a minority they do not represent a majority in our free nation. I believe the religious are on their last stand no one likes their extreme ideas and there just isn’t a majority there. We demo’s need to vote these idiots out and their little party teabillies will go no where. The old whites are dying thank goodness and the younger generation will bring new smarts and new blood to our elections.

      • Leonine

        The Tea Parties don’t do social issues. You are misinformed.

      • tightloops

        Stop lying with the Tea Party are religious nuts. I have NEVER heard religion or the topic of religion raised at any event. You are absolutely misrepresenting the truth! It was and always has been about the size and cost of an overbearing government. You are a nitwit or a government employee who spends her work day shopping on Ebay and watching porn……oh that’s right it’s in your job description!

  • jakele143

    After working for 25 years for somebody else I decided it was time for a change, trading was the answer for me because I need to work from home. I say stop working for somebody else and make your own money .Check out the website Traders Superstore, just Google them you should be able to find them, these guys are really doing it right and make you wonder why everybody isn’t like them.

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