Remember the so-called “tea party?” The not-actually-a-real-party party? In 2009 and 2010 they looked like they were kinda going to be a big deal, but then they mostly fizzled out after that. The important thing to remember about the tea party is that really they’re just Republicans. Pure Republicans. They claim to be the most conservative Republicans, but the fact is, part of why they’re struggling these days, is that its getting harder and harder to tell the difference between a tea-partier and any other run of the mill Republican. They’re almost all right-wing extremists, and last night’s primaries show that the tea-party’s fifteen minutes are just about up.
Here’s where the tea baggers are on life support:
- Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell easily defeated fellow Republican challenger Matt Bevin. Though Bevin garnered the support of several anti-establishment groups, McConnell was supported by Senator Rand Paul, a tea party darling in the Senate. Hell, McConnell even hired Paul’s campaign manager! Lo and behold, Sen. Paul immediately delivered a video message calling for party unity in the goal of re-taking the Senate. Wonders never cease.
- Georgia: A large field of Republican candidates vied for a US Senate seat in Georgia. Ultimately, businessman David Perdue and Representative Jack Kingston advanced to a July runoff election. The two candidates, while both totally right-wing politically, are seen as the most palatable to the Republican establishment. Both came out ahead of tea party favorites Phil Gringrey, Karen Handel and Paul Broun. If you need more proof, though, that the establishment and the tea party are politically indistinguishable look no further than former presidential candidate Hermann Cain’s endorsement of Perdue.
- Arkansas: In two House Primaries, establishment Republicans easily defeated tea party backed challengers. In the 2nd district, banker French Hill trounced state Representative Ann Clemmer, 55% to 23%. State House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman defeated energy magnate Tommy Moll in a closer but still decisive 53% to 47% race. So long Arkansas tea baggers.
- Oregon: Tea-party backed state Rep. Jason Conger was easily defeated by Pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby in the Oregon Senate primary. Wehby got 53% of the vote, to Conger’s meager 34%. As the tea party candidate, Conger has been a predictably sore-loser, refusing to say whether he’ll support Wehby in the general election, and blaming the NRSC and dirty politics for his loss.
- Idaho: Despite backing from tea-party groups and anti-government crusaders like the Club for Growth, Bryan Smith was handedly defeated by Rep. Mike Simpson. It doesn’t get more “establishment” than Rep. Simpson, who has been Congress for 8 terms. Simpson garnered a whopping 63% of the vote to Smith’s 37%. Though this is a win for establishment Republicans, it’s hardy a win for reasonable moderates. Simpson’s campaign was backed by the US Chamber of Commerce and former Rep. Steve La Tourette’s Defending Main Street PAC, both bastions of right-wing political hackery.
Ultimately, the civil war for control of the Republican party rages on, as self identified tea party extremists face off against “establishment” extremists. Extremists versus extremists. That’s the reality in state after state and something we look forward to watching.
Joshua Dieker is a BNR contributing writer, campaign consultant, community organizer and dad. Find him on twitter: @jdieker