This week’s primaries give a small indication of what Republicans can expect to face in this November’s mid-term elections.
The Tea Party has made itself known. This week’s Republican primaries in three states were the one of the first practical applications of the movement’s growing power – three Tea Party-backed candidates appear to have snatched the Republican nomination from established candidates. But the Tea Party is still fostered under the Republican aegis, prompting some observers to ask, is the GOP about to devour itself?
In Alaska – the state formerly governed by Tea Party darling Sarah Palin – the longtime incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, is looking down the long barrel of defeat. While all the ballots are not yet counted, Murkowski appears to be trailing challenger Joe Miller, a Tea Party-backed candidate blessed by various members of the Palin family. If Miller succeeds, it’ll be another feather in both Palin and the Tea Party’s tri-cornered cap, although, as The Guardian’s Richard Adams noted, Palin might be kicking herself: “If Murkowski had been known to be so vulnerable, then Palin herself might have run for the seat.”
In Florida, Republican voters chose wealthy hard-right former healthcare exec Rick Scott over attorney general Bill McCollum in the gubernatorial primary, and Tea Party and Palin-backed Marco Rubio took the Republican senate nomination, after Gov. Charlie Crist backed out to run as an independent.
But that the Tea Party has increased in profile and perceived power is concerning to some: “The battle for the soul of the Republican party goes on,” the Financial Times, in one of its leading editorials, claimed. “So far, on the whole, moderation and intelligence are on the losing side.” The New York Times, in one of its leading editorials, complained, “Republican insurgents from the far right did well in Tuesday’s primaries. What their campaigns lack in logic, compassion and sensible policy seems to be counterbalanced by a fiercely committed voter base that is nowhere to be seen on the Democratic side.”
And The Wall Street Journal saw the primary results as a wake-up call for the Republican Party: “GOP Members of Congress who think they can return to business as usual if they regain the majority should pay attention.”
Others, however, see the wave of change coming this November as a positive sign, even if that wave is pushed along by the Tea Party. USA Today, in one of its leading editorials, noted, “We also hope that many of the anti-establishment candidates who are winning in Republican primaries this year are sincere about renouncing pork and controlling government spending.”
Moreover, not everyone sees the results of the primary elections as evidence of an ascendant Tea Party movement and a therefore fractured Republican Party, and of an overall turning-against-the-establishment narrative. That makes for difficult writing for the American media, Fox News’s Chris Stirewalt chortled: “The sound you hear is the soft weeping of writers in newsrooms across the land looking for a way to describe Tuesday’s primary election results…. Tuesday’s results should shatter any idea that there is a reliable narrative for this year’s elections, save one – Democrats have a lot of trouble on their hands.”
Part of the difficulty in discerning a narrative here is that not everyone facing a Tea Party-backed candidate lost. Senator John McCain won the Arizona primary, a race that the longtime incumbent wasn’t expected to lose. But to defeat Tea Party-backed radio talk show host, JD Hayworth, he had to spend $21 million, more than his previous re-election campaigns and one of the most expensive campaigns in the country. Moreover, he had to put himself in a rather uncomfortable position – far to the right of his previously professed politics.
USA Today, in a leading editorial, lamented, “To pass muster with this year’s angry GOP electorate, McCain — an incumbent with years of service, a record of accomplishment and bipartisan admiration — renounced much of what he has stood for in a valiant and remarkable career.” Though McCain has always been conservative on issues of limited government, abortion, and national security, he beat a hasty retreat from a willingness to seek bipartisan consensus on issues like immigration (recall Arizona’s recent controversial immigration law) and climate change legislation. McCain is a “maverick” no more, USA Today complained.
But whatever these primaries augur, one thing is for sure: Congress is set for a major shake up this November. All 435 House of Representative seats are up for election, while 37 of the 100 Senate seats are up grabs and America is seething with some deep-seated resentment towards the incumbents. Sparks will no doubt fly.