GOP establishment strikes back in primaries

Thomas Lifson
It was pretty much a rout for Tea Party/insurgents in yesterday’s primaries, as establishment-backed candidate for the North Carolina Senate nomination Thom Tillis easily exceeded the 40% threshold necessary to avoid a run-off, while incumbent House members John Boehner (OH), Renee Elmers (NC), Walter Jones (NC), David Joyce (OH), and Susan Brooks (IN) defeated challengers from the right. But before concluding that all is hopeless, consider a few aspects of the situation.

The North Carolina Senate nomination was by far the highest profile race, in part because incumbent Democrat Senator Kay Hagan is extremely vulnerable, with her approval ratings under water, and her vote for Obamacare a cement overshoe. Tillis had millions of dollars in backing from Karl Rove’s American Crossing and the Chamber of Commerce and endorsements from establishmentarians Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Mitt Romney Even so, his vote total of roughly 46% (final results still not available) was very close to the 44% combined total of his two conservative rivals, “Greg Brannon, an obstetrician aligned with the tea party who had support from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who finished with 27 percent of the vote, and Mark Harris, a pastor, who had focused his appeal on social conservatism and was backed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had 17 percent of the vote.”

Avoiding a costly and potentially bitter runoff election is a plus, even if Tillis was the winner. We need him to win this race, even if he is not the most conservative candidate. And he is not that bad, even though he did initially support the establishment of a state health care exchange, a move he now regrets. Eliana Johnson of National Review explains who he is:

Tillis has some conservative bona fides.

Over the past two years, he’s been a key figure in a Republican revolution that has dragged North Carolina about 20 yards to the right, and he is not easily portrayed as somebody who is hostile to conservative ideas.

Tillis became state-house speaker in 2010 after helping Republicans reclaim a majority in the state house and senate for the first time in more than a century. Then, in 2012, North Carolina elected Republican Pat McCrory to the governorship; it had been nearly three decades since a Republican held that post.

Together, over the past two years, Tillis and McCrory have enacted a broad conservative agenda and pushed through some of the most ambitious legislative changes that any state has adopted in such a short period of time. The tax code got a rewrite, school vouchers were introduced, and an expansion of Medicaid was blocked. Tort reform, restrictions on abortion, and a voter-identification law were enacted. The moves so rankled Democrats that they began a weekly protest known as “Moral Mondays.” They garnered national attention as protesters were arrested week after week, prompting the editorial writers at the New York Times to declarethe slew of legislative changes a “demolition derby.”

“Fundamentally,” says the Locke Foundation’s Hood, “arguing that Thom Tillis wasn’t conservative enough was a doomed effort.”

Tillis is viewed with suspicion by some conservatives, and by his tea-party opponents, for initially supporting the establishment of a state-based Obamacare exchange in North Carolina. (He now says he supports a full repeal of the law.) That’s something that Hagan’s campaign, which considered Tillis the toughest Republican candidate and sought to force him into a run-off, has already seized upon, sending flyers broadcasting the fact to Republican primary voters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

The Hagan campaign's "tell" is worth serious consderation in evaluating the results. She "lost" the primary even more than the tea party did.

In the other races, while it would have been emotionally satisfying to unseat some House incumbents in the primaries, such victories happen rarely, and only when the opposition is fired up, usually over some outrage from the incumbent. While I have many a bone to pick with Boehner, he did appoint a Select Committee days before the primary (coincidence?), and has demonstrated the he will follow his caucus if it pushes him in a conservative direction.

We still have a fight with the ruling class ahead of us, but let’s not fall into the fallacy that there’s “not a dime’s worth of difference” between the two parties. We are stuck with Barack Obama, and we need an opposition party in control of both chambers of Congress to limit the damage.

It was pretty much a rout for Tea Party/insurgents in yesterday’s primaries, as establishment-backed candidate for the North Carolina Senate nomination Thom Tillis easily exceeded the 40% threshold necessary to avoid a run-off, while incumbent House members John Boehner (OH), Renee Elmers (NC), Walter Jones (NC), David Joyce (OH), and Susan Brooks (IN) defeated challengers from the right. But before concluding that all is hopeless, consider a few aspects of the situation.

The North Carolina Senate nomination was by far the highest profile race, in part because incumbent Democrat Senator Kay Hagan is extremely vulnerable, with her approval ratings under water, and her vote for Obamacare a cement overshoe. Tillis had millions of dollars in backing from Karl Rove’s American Crossing and the Chamber of Commerce and endorsements from establishmentarians Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Mitt Romney Even so, his vote total of roughly 46% (final results still not available) was very close to the 44% combined total of his two conservative rivals, “Greg Brannon, an obstetrician aligned with the tea party who had support from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who finished with 27 percent of the vote, and Mark Harris, a pastor, who had focused his appeal on social conservatism and was backed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had 17 percent of the vote.”

Avoiding a costly and potentially bitter runoff election is a plus, even if Tillis was the winner. We need him to win this race, even if he is not the most conservative candidate. And he is not that bad, even though he did initially support the establishment of a state health care exchange, a move he now regrets. Eliana Johnson of National Review explains who he is:

Tillis has some conservative bona fides.

Over the past two years, he’s been a key figure in a Republican revolution that has dragged North Carolina about 20 yards to the right, and he is not easily portrayed as somebody who is hostile to conservative ideas.

Tillis became state-house speaker in 2010 after helping Republicans reclaim a majority in the state house and senate for the first time in more than a century. Then, in 2012, North Carolina elected Republican Pat McCrory to the governorship; it had been nearly three decades since a Republican held that post.

Together, over the past two years, Tillis and McCrory have enacted a broad conservative agenda and pushed through some of the most ambitious legislative changes that any state has adopted in such a short period of time. The tax code got a rewrite, school vouchers were introduced, and an expansion of Medicaid was blocked. Tort reform, restrictions on abortion, and a voter-identification law were enacted. The moves so rankled Democrats that they began a weekly protest known as “Moral Mondays.” They garnered national attention as protesters were arrested week after week, prompting the editorial writers at the New York Times to declarethe slew of legislative changes a “demolition derby.”

“Fundamentally,” says the Locke Foundation’s Hood, “arguing that Thom Tillis wasn’t conservative enough was a doomed effort.”

Tillis is viewed with suspicion by some conservatives, and by his tea-party opponents, for initially supporting the establishment of a state-based Obamacare exchange in North Carolina. (He now says he supports a full repeal of the law.) That’s something that Hagan’s campaign, which considered Tillis the toughest Republican candidate and sought to force him into a run-off, has already seized upon, sending flyers broadcasting the fact to Republican primary voters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

The Hagan campaign's "tell" is worth serious consderation in evaluating the results. She "lost" the primary even more than the tea party did.

In the other races, while it would have been emotionally satisfying to unseat some House incumbents in the primaries, such victories happen rarely, and only when the opposition is fired up, usually over some outrage from the incumbent. While I have many a bone to pick with Boehner, he did appoint a Select Committee days before the primary (coincidence?), and has demonstrated the he will follow his caucus if it pushes him in a conservative direction.

We still have a fight with the ruling class ahead of us, but let’s not fall into the fallacy that there’s “not a dime’s worth of difference” between the two parties. We are stuck with Barack Obama, and we need an opposition party in control of both chambers of Congress to limit the damage.