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December 10, 2013

Losing The Plot On Primaries

News from the GOP Senate primary front:

Congressman Steve Stockman announces he will take on John Cornyn in Texas.

The Senate Conservative Fund endorses Milton Wolfe against Pat Roberts in Kansas.

Let's look at each of these in turn.

Cornyn is the GOP's number 2 guy in the Senate. That means the top leadership of the Senate is being primaried by reasonable, if not likely, candidates. That's not good from a party perspective. Even if Cornyn and Mitch McConnell win in walks they will spend a lot of money doing it and the party will be subject to a lot of "civil war" stories. No matter the outcome of the races, the GOP is not a healthy party.

Stockman filed at almost the last minute and has almost no money (he's got $32K compared to Cornyn's $7 million). The Senate Conservative Fund hasn't made a decision yet but the Club For Growth has said they are staying out.

Stockman is giving up a safe House seat to take on what's clearly going to be a longshot race. What is hoping to tap into?

Will it be enough?

People will point to the Cruz/Dewhurst race but there are some major differences.

That was a fight for an open seat, not with a long-term well connected DC incumbent. More importantly, there was a 3rd candidate who go ~13% of the vote keeping Dewhurst under 50% leading to the runoff which Cruz (like a lot of insurgents) won in a walk.

Stockman may not win but he's going to give Cornyn a headache.

The Roberts-Wolfe race is a total mystery to me.

According to Heritage Action's scorecard, Roberts is number 5 on their list of Senators with a 90% score (the same score as Stockman gets in the House).

What's the goal here?


You can say, "Primary ALL of them!" Ok but resources are always limited. Is going after Mike Enzi and Pat Roberts the best use of resources when Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander are basically getting a pass?

The Senate Cosnervative Fund is also going after Thad Cochran from Mississippi and trying to get a more conservative candidate as the nominee in Louisiana. I think both of those are smart moves.

On the other side of this debate are Michael Medved and John Podhoretz who argue that the GOP is conservative enough and all of this primary stuff is nonsense.

It's a really long piece and I'm not sure they think there ever should be any primaries short of out and out hostility to the GOP. Last night on Twitter Podhoretz claimed they laid out when it was ok to primary. I'm guessing this is it.

In other words, primary challenges to sitting members of the Senate or the House can seriously damage the party’s overall prospects and most certainly will do nothing to burnish the Republican brand. Regardless of the outcome of each of the various battles in this possible “civil war,” bitter internal disputes over whether a given candidate qualifies for admiration as a pure-bred “true conservative” or deserves contempt as a mongrel squish can only strike swing voters and independents as eccentric, fanatical, or even cultish—especially at a time when barely a third of the electorate describes itself as “conservative.”

It is also peculiarly anachronistic. There was once an ideological divide in the GOP, when liberal Republicans like Clifford Case (alongside Jacob Javits of New York, Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, and the geographical outlier Mark Hatfield of Oregon) were genuinely hostile to conservatism and protective of their place in the mainstream “establishment.” They were, indeed, RINOs, if by Republican you mean someone who generally adheres to a right-of-center point of view. But demographic and geographic changes in the United States over the past 40 years have basically made those original RINOs an extinct species. Talking about manifestly conservative politicians of the early 21st century as though they are no different from liberals rightly creates cognitive dissonance in the minds of voters who do not follow the ins and outs of Republican politics day to day, and inclines many of them to back away in discomfort as one does when seeing a married couple squabble in public.

If that's their criteria for a primary I would suggest there's one candidate this year who fits even that narrow definition: Susan Collins. Her vote for the stimulus plan alone should earn her a primary challenge for hostility to the GOP. Remember only the retired Olympia Snow and the turncoat Arlen Specter voted for it.

As much as I loathe Collins, primarying her would be idiotic. She's the best the GOP is going to do in Maine. So what's gained by running a conservative against her?

I'd suggest any rule for primaries that leads to your side losing seats is really just an incumbent protection scheme.

So who should be the focus of targeted primary challenges?

For me it's three basic things:

1. A lukewarm voting record

2. A record of vocal opposition to conservatives, especially when coupled with a history of "reaching across the aisle".

3. A record of abandoning our side on key votes. People will say "someone who votes with my 80% of the time is an ally, not an enemy". That's not necessarily true.

Look at the Supreme Court. There are a lot more 9-0, 8-1, 7-2 decisions than there are 5-4 ones. But which ones are the really important votes? If the 20% of the time you are against me are the votes that really matter, you're not an ally.

Conservatives need to focus on primarying candidates that do real damage to the movement and whose replacement would bring real value.

I get being mad and wanting to punish these people for what they've done but it has to be done in a smart, methodical and most importantly, effective way.

If you indiscriminately start primarying guys like Enzi and Roberts people won't take your complaints very seriously. And worse, you'll lose a lot of the races and then they'll stop fearing you.

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posted by DrewM. at 10:52 AM

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