What 'Republican establishment' is the Tea Party rattling?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Republican establishment, we are told, has suffered quite a beating at the hands of a 41-year-old Delaware woman by the name of Christine O'Donnell.

The Time magazine cover says the Tea Party's "conservative rebels are rattling the Republican establishment." ABC News says the Tea Party landed "a huge blow to the GOP establishment," and CNN says it sent "shockwaves to the Republican establishment." George W. Bush ad man Mark McKinnon tells USA Today "there is now a civil war within the Republican Party," pitting the Tea Party against "the Republican establishment."

Similar claims had been made earlier about the Tea Party bucking, beating, striking, shocking and delivering blow after blow to the establishment in New York, Florida, Colorado, Alaska, Kentucky and elsewhere.

Sorry to interrupt the anti-establishment violence, but could we pause long enough to ask a question: What is this "Republican establishment" of which you speak?

Though it has become a stock storyline to describe besieged party bosses, those peddling this account have largely created a straw man. The Republican establishment of popular imagination, like the Georgetown salon, no longer exists. If there is a Republican establishment, the Tea Party is it.

The "civil war" McKinnon and others describe implies that party leaders are fighting back. Instead, they're stepping out in front of the Tea Party parade and pretending to be drum majors.

Who in the supposed Republican establishment has opposed the Tea Party?

Not Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. "If I weren't chair of the RNC, I'd be out there in the Tea Party movement," he told Greta van Susteren.

Not House Republican leader John Boehner. "There really is no difference between what Republicans believe in and what the Tea Party activists believe in," he told radio host Mike Gallagher.

Not Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Since his favored candidate lost the Kentucky Senate primary to the Tea Party's Rand Paul, McConnell has routinely hurled around Tea Party terms such as "government takeover" and has reveled in blocking President Obama's agenda. "I wish we had been able to obstruct more," he said.

Not National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn. The Texas senator, swallowing earlier misgivings, just sent O'Donnell a check from the party for $42,000.

Not even Karl Rove. After O'Donnell's victory, George W. Bush's "brain" declared on Fox News that "this is not a race we're going to be able to win," citing the "nutty things" she has said. (The nominee has claimed, among other things, that there are mice with human brains.) But after hearing complaints from Tea Party types such as Sarah Palin, Rove returned to Fox News to say that O'Donnell is "not out of the game" and that he was "one of the first" to endorse her.

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