After Nebraska crowned Ben Sasse as its Republican senate candidate on Tuesday night, many were quick to give the tea party that endorsed him a share of the glory.
Despite the handful of "Great Job!" stickers delivered via tea party-mentioning headlines, Sasse's victory, when paired with the previous "establishment" victories, functions far better as a trend than an outlier. As Molly Ball points out, "tea party-endorsed" Sasse won because he carefully balanced the establishment and the crowd further to the right. As did "establishment-endorsed" -- but still pretty darn conservative -- Thom Tillis, who will face off against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina this November.
The way to win in the Republican Party these days, the primary trend seems to imply, is to have everyone utterly confused about where your allegiance lies -- but to also keep the establishment happy, even if invisibly.
The Republican candidates leading the polls in the biggest primaries next Tuesday follow the same script. Zero of them are challengers from the right, although plenty are conservative enough to keep you wondering.
In Georgia, there are multiple tea party candidates to choose from in the Republican Senate primary. A millionaire businessman and 22-year veteran of Congress are in the lead, and will likely shut the tea party out of the presumed runoff. In the Republican primary for Idaho's 2nd District seat, incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson seems safe from tea party challenger Bryan Smith, although polling is scarce. Club for Growth, a conservative group known for spending big on tea party challengers, has been silent in the race the past few weeks.
Matt Bevin tried to wrest away the Kentucky senate nomination from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which didn't end well. The last NBC News/Marist poll has McConnell up by 32 percentage points. In the Oregon Senate primary, physician Monica Wehby has established herself as the centrist in the race, and is ahead of her opponent, state Rep. Jason Conger, by 21 percentage points in the last poll. Oregon Right to Life and American Principles Fund have spent money against Wehby.
In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton is the lone Republican running, and he's in the mold of Tillis and Sasse. He has the support of the Republican National Senatorial Committee and Club for Growth. One Republican strategist told Business Insider, "He balances both wings of the party by not insulting either and by embodying both." Steven Law, president of American Crossroads, told The Washington Post in 2013, "Representative Cotton is a conservative leader and rock star candidate."
All that gushing -- and the money that comes with it -- shows why Republican candidates have been loathe to wed themselves to either branch of the GOP. Their track record in 2014 primaries show that it's a smart strategy too, at least for now. Whether staying comfortable with the tea party while networking with the establishment on the side is as successful a strategy for winning general elections remains to be seen.