The high cost for the establishment of beating the Tea Party
The Republican establishment spent upwards of $23 million in outside money to beat back challnges to incumbents in about 20 races around the country, according to a study done by Politico.
Establishment-aligned groups have already spent some $23 million on independent expenditures propping up favored House and Senate candidates in contentious primaries, according to a POLITICO review of Federal Election Commission records. By comparison, Republican nominees raised and spent that amount in the 2012 North Dakota, Indiana and Nevada Senate races combined — three of the most competitive campaigns fought that year.
The scope of the effort to suppress activist-backed candidates has been broader and costlier than is widely understood, covering at least 20 House and Senate primaries from North Carolina to California, and from coastal Mississippi to the outer tip of Long Island. The loose coalition of establishment forces encompasses two dozen advocacy groups, industry associations and super PACs that have raised and spent millions on behalf of Washington’s chosen candidates.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan said the “quote ‘establishment’” had successfully divided up the primary map this year to avoid duplicating one another’s efforts. Eventually, Duncan said, outside groups on the right may realize that they’re better off working with the national party than raging against it. Indeed, in many cases this year, national party favorites have tacked well to the right to win their primaries.
“I think we have to keep on winning. I think we have to show up and make sure that our candidates are not going to be complacent and that they start early,” Duncan said. “That wake-up call certainly seems to have gotten through.”
Nearly a third of the establishment money has come from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The business lobby’s spending in this year’s toughest primaries has about equaled the $7 million that the conservative Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund have spent together on the most fractious elections — excluding races, like the Senate campaigns in Arkansas and Alaska, where there’s been no meaningful clash between establishment-sanctioned outside groups and the activist right.
And the $23 million figure isn’t even close to a full accounting of what D.C.-backed candidates spent to win their nomination fights. Candidates themselves, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, have collectively spent tens of millions more from their campaign accounts.
With the exception of McConnell, all of those GOP Senators are relatively safe. And despite spending millions to fend off a tea party challenge, none of them are hurting for cash.
As an exercise in party politics, the expenditures on both sides were worth it. No politician should be allowed to take their seat for granted. The irony is that either the tea party challenger or the incumbent would probably prevail in November in almost all of those seats. The challenges came mostly in red states where Republicans already had an advantage, so the argument that any of the challengers would have cost the GOP a seat doesn't hold. It may be that most of the winners are stronger candidates, but it hardly matters when both candidates could have been victorious in November.