The continuing rise of the Tea Party has the GOP establishment still worried.
Photo By Author DC 2009
As the 2012 elections approached the rise of the Tea Party continued and they were no longer an unknown entity either to the nation or to the GOP establishment. The initial enthusiasm that all “right” leaning America felt as they witnessed a spontaneous grassroots movement percolate seemingly out of nowhere to dominate the political scene in 2010 was being replaced by institutional animosity. As that same movement revealed that it was not a partisan movement but an ideological one bent on a different kind of change. Despite the diverse nature of the Tea Party it was clear that the underpinnings of the movement were based almost solely on two bedrock principles, a return to fiscal sanity and re-establishment of the constitution as the law of the land. Everything else was a distant third including party politics.
On the surface it seemed like the GOP ought to have embraced this new-found source of enthusiasm and electoral clout but things did not play out that way. The Tea Party was a principle driven movement whose spontaneous combustion onto the political scene was neither spontaneous or a coördinated movement at all. The Tea Party formed from a boiling cauldron of years of frustration by millions of conservative and libertarian minded Americans coming together in loose knit local confederations to express their pent-up anger at the direction the nation was headed. Much to the GOP establishment’s surprise that anger was also directed at them. The battle was not to take on the Democrats, the battle was/is to change the direction of the country and the enemy was/is Washington D.C. and the power structure which was/is bankrupting the nation, undermining constitutional freedoms and in general destroying the American ideal. And it did not matter which uniform you wore because both sides were responsible for the deterioration. Once the GOP establishment realized that they were not immune to the wrath of the “masses” rather than join the revolution they did what good bureaucrats always do, they began to protect their turf.
By the time the 2012 election cycle rolled around, what should have been a cake walk election for the Republicans across the board as 2010 had pretty much been instead became an us versus them contest between the “establishment” and the primary base of the GOP. While the insiders lectured the people fumed. The “outsider” Romney of 2010 became the “insider” Romney of 2012 and as the primary season wore on it became a contest between Romney and the “non-Romney” candidate of the week until only Rick Santorum was left to lose.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room of the 2012 election season, Tod Aikin. of “legitimate rape” fame The GOP establishment and the media hang that elephant around the Tea Party like an anchor in hopes of drowning the movement. But here is the simple question that is never asked, if Tod Aikin was the Tea Party candidate that sunk the GOP’s Senate hopes, who was the establishment candidate that he beat?
In the Missouri Republican senate primary in 2012 there were three legitimate contenders, Aikin the five term U.S. Congressman, Former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and St. Louis businessman John Brunner. Aikin’s Tea Party credentials were that he was a member of the Tea Party caucus in the House and had been endorsed by fellow House caucus members Michelle Bachman (R-MN) and Steve King. R-IA). Steelman on the other hand had been endorsed by Sarah Palin, The Tea Party Express and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). If there was an “establishment” candidate it was John Brunner who was endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, but he was also endorsed by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) who had been elected in 2010 as a Tea Party candidate and Freedom Works with its strong ties to the Tea Party.
All three candidates had ties to and could legitimately have claimed to be Tea Party candidates. So whoever won was going to wear the Tea Party mantle into the general election. In fact a lengthy Christian Science Monitorarticle published the week before the election described it this way:
In Missouri, tea party support is spread across all three candidates, with Ms. Steelman receiving an endorsement from Sarah Palin, Mr. Akin receiving one from US Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Mr. Brunner being endorsed by the tea-party-friendly FreedomWorks group in Washington.
An ABC Newsarticle called the race a “Tea Party Mashup.” and called Aikin the conservative Christian candidate who would appeal to social-issue voters, which indeed he was and which he did. Two points that are important to remember though, Aikin’s comments that caused the firestorm fed by Karl Rove and crew, had absolutely nothing to do with the Tea Party, they were spoken or misspoken while he was wearing his social conservative hat. In addition it was not some “outside the beltway” Tea Party bumpkin that cost the Republican’s the Senate seat in Missouri, it was a five term sitting congressman who was elected to that office long before the Tea Party ever came into existence and whom the GOP gladly wanted in their ranks in the House.
Whether Aikin could have recovered from his stupid comments is doubtful, but it became impossible once the GOP establishment threw him under the bus and continued to use him as a speed bump on every conceivable occasion. That old party unity thing again don’t you know? When Republican’s eat their own it is assured that the media will continue to serve up further courses. Which is exactly what happened in Indiana.
Richard Murdock was a decent candidate and would probably be an US Senator today had it not been for the Aikin statements. His comments in a debate would probably have drawn little or no attention if they had not come in the wake of the Aiken controversy. In fact the question that prompted his statements would probably have never been asked without the “Aikin problem.” The hypersensitivity of the “rape issue” which is a manufactured contrivance made to trip up religious candidates on the right undid him The fact that Murdock did not handle the question better is regrettable but candidates in both parties make mistakes all the time and it has nothing to do with whether you believe in the constitution and fiscal responsibility it is a matter of whether the party has your back, the GOP definitely did not have Murdock’s back.
Not so candidate macaca in Virginia.
Whereas Aikin and Murdock are excoriated and thrown in the face of the Tea Party Movement for losing their elections because they are inarticulate Tea Party boobs, we hear not a word about the failure of two former Governors losing in states where there were not only sitting GOP governors but the Republican’s held the legislatures. George Allen (R-VA) and Tommy Thompson (R-WI) were sold by the “experts” as being perfect candidates for the time. Both of these “perfect” candidates lost by nearly 6%. As did many other establishment backed candidates in 2012 such as Rick Berg (R-ND), Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Connie Mack (R-FL), Heather Wilson (R-NM), Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Scott Brown (R-MA) and a slew of other Republicans who lost in less competitive races. All of the candidates mentioned above have served in Washington either as congressman, Senators or cabinet officers. Besides all being old Washington “hands” they now have one more thing in common, they all lost Senate races in 2012 along with Murdock and Aikin.
Was the Todd Aikin defeat the worst of the most “winnable” races to be lost in 2912? Probably but not much worse than Rick Berg’s loss of an open seat in North Dakota where Romney carried the state by 20%. Remember Aikin was facing an incumbent in a purple state. So why is Berg’s candidacy not scrutinized and ridiculed as having “cost the Republicans the Senate?” Or Allan’s or Thompson’s or Rehberg’s? All seen as competitive if not very winnable seats going into the election season. All of which establishment candidates failed at miserably.
The reason these races are ignored is simple, to analyze these elections is to admit that the GOP “insider’s” candidates did no better than the Tea Party “losers.” In fact they did worse. So who were the non-incumbent Republicans that won their races in 2012?
NE-Deb Fisher, endorsed by Sarah Palin and other Tea Party conservatives
AZ- Jeff Flake, endorsed by Freedom Works, Senate Conservative Fund and Club for Growth