The Republican Mainstream Strikes Back

Last night was a bad night for the Tea Party. From Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky to Congressman Mike Simpson in Idaho, mainstream candidates prevailed over Tea Party challengers in a series of closely watched Republican primaries across the U.S.

One can almost hear the champagne corks popping over at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as at the Republican Main Street Partnership in downtown Washington, DC. Both organizations had spent heavily against candidates they thought of as unelectable – and that meant taking on their powerful moneyed backers: outfits like Club for Growth, the Heritage Action Fund or the Koch brother funded outfit Freedom Works.

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Copyright: Sarah Chamberlain

“We have been watching for far too long, now we are fighting back,” Sarah Chamberlain of the Republican Main Street Partnership told me for an article in the January 2014 issue of German business magazine Capital (the Main Street Partnership posted an English translation on their website). She serves as the COO and CFO of the organization whose President is former Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette. She showed me the Power Point presentation she used at fundraising luncheons to scare donors into spending money to get “normal” candidates elected.

“Four we gave away.” Chamberlain thinks that the Senate could already be in Republican hands had it not been for candidates like Sharron Angle in Nevada, Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akins in Missouri who famously claimed that “legitimate rape” (without the woman’s consent) could not lead to pregnancy. Not to mention Christine O’Donnell in Delaware who had “dabbled” in voodoo practices and therefore had to begin one of her campaign spots with the sentence “I am not a witch.”

At the Chamber of Commerce I spoke with Political Director Rob Engstrom who had just returned from Alabama where he helped business lawyer Bradley Byrne win the special election for a vacant House seat.

The Chamber agrees with many Tea Party goals but not the methods, Engstrom told me. “Do we think Washington is spending too much? Do we think that debt and deficits are unsustainable? Are we against the health care reform?”, he asked. “Of course.”

But in his view the Tea Party orchestrated  government shutdown last October and the protracted fight over raising the debt ceiling had not only spooked the financial markets but also harmed the international image of the United States. “We will never stand by and let the full faith and credit of US government be at issue.”

It is too early to say if Republicans can really win a majority in the Senate in the mid-term elections this November. But in the view of many in the Party’s old establishment, preventing the nomination of extreme candidates is a first step – and more reason than ever for President Barack Obama and the Democrats to be scared.

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