Say what you will about Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), but they know a train wreck when they see it. They also know when to separate themselves from the cranks and the losers on the right. Although both supported the shutdown and were heartily supported by tea party groups in their own Senate races, neither one has endorsed Matt Bevin in Kentucky, Milton Wolf in Kansas or Chris McDaniel in Mississippi. In fact, Cruz’s office confirms he hasn’t endorsed anyone in the primaries. He may weigh in after the primaries. Rand Paul has endorsed two very establishment Republican candidates, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Mike Enzi (Wy.). He’s also endorsed Steve Lonegan in New Jersey (a seat neither party thinks is in play) and Greg Brannon in North Carolina, the most problematic of his picks. (A jury found that Brannon misled investors.)
There are a few important lessons here. First, neither one of these guys wants to be associated with, or take responsibility for, any tea party wipeouts if they can possibly avoid it. They have to be seen as serious people if they are going to be considered for president, and they don’t want to associate their brand of conservatism with the kookier incarnations out there in the hinterlands. They may say nice things about the tea party generically, but these guys are really on their own in elections.
Second, this suggests Bevin, McDaniel and Wolf are so far out there not even the two most conservative senators will endorse them. A lot of their donors are going to be pretty annoyed the groups didn’t do rudimentary vetting. FreedomWorks, Senate Conservatives Fund (which Cruz previously but no longer supports against incumbents), Madison Project and others will have some explaining to do. If they had just checked with two of their favorite senators they might have spotted trouble and saved their donors a ton of money.
And finally, this reinforces our point that within Congress and the GOP as a whole there is more unity than the mainstream media portrays as the tea party devolves into a very fringe group backed by D.C. money-making operations. The latter used to be the tail wagging the dog; now these characters are just howling at the moon.In a political universe in which House Speaker John Boehner is stronger than ever and Rand Paul backs McConnell, the establishment has triumphed.If a year or so ago everyone was a “tea partier” on the GOP side, increasingly I suspect candidates won’t be so anxious to self-identify as such. There will be instead lots of “constitutional conservatives,” “movement conservatives,” “Reagan conservatives,” and “full spectrum conservatives.” If this continues, the tea party, as many of us saw coming, will fold into the GOP completely, leaving little sign of a distinct movement. That is no surprise.
Historically, insurgent movements either take over the party and rout the old team or they assimilate into the greater party. With the demise of some of these fringe campaigns, the big names on the right shying away from the cranks, and the passage of a GOP budget (a two-year deal and now the new Ryan budget), we are arriving back where the GOP began before the tea party. There are more conservative elements in the GOP, and there are more moderate elements. There will be disputes on tactics such as the shutdown, and disputes on substance (pro- or anti-immigration reform, accepting or anti-gay marriage). There will be people who hold views that the vast majority of the party doesn’t agree with, but there won’t be much of a political organization to support and push their views. But all this will transpire within the same political organization. The big tent is back.