What Did The Establishment Win Last Night?

by Patrick Appel

David Graham warns observers not to read too much into Mitch McConnell’s win last night:

[H]ere’s what this tells us about the Tea Party-establishment war, and what my colleague Molly Ball calls The Dynamic, the national theme that explains all races: Probably not much. What it shows is that it’s not enough to challenge an incumbent from the right in a red state. It’s not even enough for the incumbent to be very vulnerable. The two cases where Tea Party candidates unseated sitting senators—Mike Lee in Utah and Richard Mourdock in Indiana—have come when the incumbent was caught off-guard and the challenger was a strong candidate. Neither was the case in Kentucky.

Michael Tomasky thinks this election is just a bump in the road for the Tea Party:

[W]hile 2014 is, to be sure, going to go down as a bad Tea Party year in electoral terms, we certainly can’t yet say the same of 2016—a much more important year, i.e. presidential.

In fact, as of today, what we can say about 2016, speculative as it may be, is that the tea party is if anything in the driver’s seat. The guy we’ve all taken to calling the GOP front-runner, Rand Paul, is a Tea Party guy. That simple fact alone hardly makes for anything I’d call dead.

Beyond Paul, numerous potential candidates are backed by the Tea Party or in some sense have that aura about them. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker—even Mike Huckabee, if he casts his lure [good] into the waters, will be fishing in the Tea Party pond for votes. Yes, there’ll be a Chris Christie or a Jeb Bush to represent the establishment. But if most of the candidates are flat-out Tea Party people or at least Tea Party-friendly creatures, that means to me that the pull of gravity in that primary season is still going to be pretty far to the right, and driven to some decent extent by Tea Party priorities. And let’s face it: If the party does nominate Paul, the Tea Party will have won the biggest prize in intra-party politics: determining the presidential nominee. So 2016 could well be a huge Tea Party year.

Ben Jacobs makes an important point has been made before:

[T]he lesson is not that the Establishment beat the Tea Party or vice versa but that the two are becoming increasingly similar. There aren’t primaries as there were two or four years ago with moderate mandarins like Mike Castle or Dick Lugar. Instead, the candidates from each wing of the Republican Party are starting to look more alike and taking positions on issues like taxes, immigration and climate change that would have been considered far right wing in George Bush’s GOP. The fights between establishment candidates and Tea Party candidates increasingly bear a greater resemblance to nitpicking theological disputes than to Rockefeller vs. Goldwater in ideological magnitude


Kilgore unpacks last night’s results:

According to the “Year of the Republican Establishment” narrative, it was the finest of nights for Mitch McConnell and his GOP elite friends. He crushed his own tea party opponent, Matt Bevin and the “Establishment” candidate for Senate in Oregon got lucky when a multi-faceted stalking scandal occurred after most voters had cast ballots by mail. And best of all, in a state where a wild primary threatened GOP calculations to take over the Senate, Georgia, the two “Establishment” candidates will meet in a runoff after snuffing potential Todd Akin clones Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey and possible trouble-maker Karen Handel.

It’s a nice picture, and welcome after the troublesome Senate results last week in Nebraska. But its linchpin, the Georgia Senate race, is a bit — actually a lot — more complicated than that.

One reason why:

It will be interesting to see how Georgia Tea Folk line up for the runoff. Herman Cain is already in Perdue’s corner. Late in the night, major Handel backer Erick Erickson said he’d support Kingston. In an unusually long runoff campaign (nine weeks), with both candidates having access to plenty of money, the steady drift-to-the-right that characterized the entire primary field could continue.

Molly Ball provides more background on the Georgia race. Nate Cohn considers the chances of Michelle Nunn, the Democrats’ nominee:

Ms. Nunn’s job could be made easier if Mr. Perdue or Mr. Kingston proves to be an especially weak candidate. Mr. Kingston, an experienced congressman, seems less likely to make a major mistake, but Mr. Perdue is a political novice.

Ms. Nunn’s chances, then, can’t be completely dismissed. Demographic change has pushed Georgia far enough that a Democrat could conceivably squeak out a narrow win if everything goes right. But there should be no mistaking this race for a true tossup. Ms. Nunn will need to match the best performance by a Democratic candidate for federal office in more than a decade, even though she’s not an incumbent and the state’s white voters have become more conservative. It is possible, but hardly an outcome to count on.