What do yesterday’s primaries mean for the Tea Party, for the Senate and for 2016? For the Tea Party, it’s clear that the party’s over, and that radical-right extremists—the funny hat-wearing, conspiracy-mongering, Obama-hating, kooks who stormed the polls in 2010—have been shunted aside. For the Senate, it means that Democratic party hopes of hanging on to its threatened majority there have essentially vanished, since there will be few if any Tea Party kooks on the ballot in November. And for 2016, it means that the GOP is even more likely to nominate an establishment Republican, who’s paid his or her ideological dues to Big Business, the US Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street, such as Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, and not anyone from the collection of Tea Party-allied rightists such as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio or Mike Huckabee.
Needless to say, Wall Street and Big Business are gleeful.
That’s not to say that the Republican party has been taken over by Eisenhower-like politicians and the heirs of Nelson Rockefeller. For thirty years the GOP has cascaded rightward—although the exhaustion of the Tea Party may have put the brakes on further movement to the extreme right—leaving the party several clicks farther away from the center than it was in say, 1980. And the Tea Party’s influence on the party, built up since Obama’s election in 2008—which seems to have triggered a burst of racist paranoia—isn’t going away soon. The Los Angeles Times, in its news analysis, writes:
The GOP’s civil war now looks more like a merger: the establishment has moved right, and many of the tea party’s voters are rejoining/reconciling with that new mainstream—even if some of their self-appointed leaders are not.
As The New York Times put it in a May 19 editorial titled “Primary Day on the Far Side,”
No Republican has a shot in this year’s party primaries without paying homage to extremist ideas. Whether the Tea Party is still a political force is a moot point; the radicalism of 2010 and 2012 is very much alive in 2014.
It’s alive, but not exactly kicking. The lesson that the GOP will learn from the primary season of 2014 is that as long as it pays rhetorical homage to the Tea Party’s obsessions—the IRS, Benghazi, Obamacare—it can safely move forward on things that matter, such as immigration reform and cooperation with Wall Street–allied, conservative Democrats on “entitlement reforms” without worrying that much about Tea Party primary challenges.
The business press points out that as the Tea Party loses, business wins. Bloomberg, analyzing the results of the vote yesterday—in which Tea Party kooks were devastated in Kentucky, Georgia, Idaho and elsewhere, in keeping with other recent primary votes—headlined its piece “Tea Party Losses Tilt Republican Split to Business Gain.” It reported:
“These results are a big step in the right direction,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed, who advises the nation’s largest business-lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
After the 2012 election, Reed said the chamber’s leadership instructed its political operation to “get more engaged in candidate selection and primaries to identify and support House and Senate candidates that believe in growth, governing and can win in November.”
Similarly, The Wall Street Journal’s piece is headlined “GOP Sees Primaries Taming the Tea Party.” Fortune magazine’s headline is: “The Tea Party has fallen. Now what?” And a Wall Street Journal analysis says
No Republican with significant backing from the Washington establishment has lost a primary so far this year. That didn’t change during Tuesday’s House and Senate races.
Mr. McConnell won his race without breaking a sweat. In Georgia, former CEO David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston advanced to a run-off in the state’s five-way Senate primary. And Rep. Mike Simpson (R., Idaho), a close ally of Speaker John Boehner, easily beat back Club for Growth-backed challenger Bryan Smith.
And in Oregon, Monica Wehby—a pediatric neurosurgeon who ran as a Republican moderate—defeated the more conservative state Rep. Jason Conger.
The stretch of establishment victories follows Thom Tillis’s win over tea party challengers in North Carolina’s GOP Senate primary.
As Bloomberg notes—and for the GOP, this really is a central point—the folks who’ve been winning the primaries this year are not from the lets-default-on-the-debt-and-see-what-happens faction:
Besides selecting candidates with a better chance of winning in November, the business-backed coalition is also seeking to boost candidates who are more steeped in and supportive of an economic agenda, including ensuring that the nation doesn’t default on its debt.
In polls at least, as Christie Watch has been tracking, the Tea Party is losing steam. As CBS reports:
The tea party was an important factor in the 2010 elections, but its support may be waning, according to a new CBS News poll. Today, just 15 percent of Americans say they are supporters of the tea party movement—the lowest since CBS News began asking about the tea party in February 2010. The tea party reached its highest level of support (31 percent) in November 2010, soon after the midterm elections.
The movement may be losing some of its core constituency—Republicans. 32 percent of self-identified Republicans now consider themselves supporters of the tea party—down 10 points from February and a decline of 23 points from July 2010, the summer before the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives. The percentage of Republicans who identify as tea party supporters is now among the lowest in CBS News Polls.
Read Next: George Zornick on Mitch McConnell’s victory in Kentucky