Don’t overlook this one: it was another banner day yesterday for Tea Party conservatives.
Really? Despite Senator Orrin Hatch’s easy renomination in Utah over a Tea Party challenger?
Yup. Remember that the goal for hard-line conservatives isn’t to win every seat in the Republican Senate and House conferences; it’s to ensure that everyone who is elected – including those who were originally elected as Tea Party insurgents – toe the line.
To do that, they need to keep incumbents terrified. And yesterday helped. First, there was the defeat of a Member of the House, John Sullivan of Oklahoma, by a conservative challenger. Apparently the big issue was Sullivan’s attendance — he missed votes in 2009 while in rehab for alcoholism. What’s important, however, isn’t the real reason for the outcome, but how it’s interpreted in Washington, and you can be sure that conservatives will do their best to spin this as another case of what happens when a Republican politician “goes Washington” and strays from his conservative roots.
Meanwhile, in Utah, the lesson isn’t going to be that Hatch-style conservatives — I really hesitate to call him a moderate — are perfectly acceptable to Repubican voters. No, it’s going to be that Hatch-style conservatives can survive if they shift to the right and spend at least two solid years groveling to their state’s Tea Partiers. And even then they are forced into serious primaries, something no Member of Congress wants.
Why do I think that the more ideological spin will win? Because there’s plenty of organization behind it, while there’s really no one out there pushing any other interpretation right now. Nor is there anyone, at least no one organized, who has any incentive to do so. Even the Democrats have an incentive to push ideological interpretations, because it plays into a natural story line that Republicans have become extremists and out of the mainstream.
Again, what really matters in all of this is what future candidates for Republican nominations — including incumbents — believe about Republican primary electorates. And despite Hatch’s win, yesterday will wind up being yet another example of just how conservative politicians must be to win Republican nominations.