After yet another crummy election cycle, the GOP establishment has finally come out with a plan. Is it fixing our archaic get-out-the-vote program? Doing minority outreach? Registering more Republicans? Freshening up the party’s agenda? Doing a better job of working with the grassroots?
No, it’s interfering in primaries.
The disastrous 2012 election and embarrassing fiscal cliff standoff has brought forth one principal conclusion from establishment Republicans: They have a primary problem.
The intra-party contests, or threat thereof, have become the original sin that explains many of the party’s woes in the minds of GOP leaders. It’s the primaries that push their presidential nominees far to the right (see “self-deportation” and “47 percent”); produce lackluster Senate candidates (Todd Akin has almost become a one-word shorthand); and, as seen most vividly in the last two weeks, dissuade scores of gerrymandered House members from face-saving compromise while politically emasculating their speaker.
What to do about the primaries has become Topic A in many a post-election Republican soul-searching session, and now the first steps are being taken to address the issue. For Senate Republicans, that means a modified return to their 2010 posture of openly playing in primaries. A retiring House Republican is starting a super PAC to help House members challenged from the right. And an RNC commission is mulling over changes to the party’s presidential primary.
In the Senate, where at least five GOP losses in the past two election cycles could be attributed to primaries, Republican leaders are planning to intervene in selected 2014 races to ensure preferred candidates win the nomination.
High-profile Senate Republicans are going to try to pre-empt bloody primaries with aggressive, early recruitment and support — effectively trying to clear fields.
…“It’s important for the groups that have been sitting on the sidelines in primaries and ceding the field to groups to be more involved,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “You’ve got certain groups that are very active in primaries, in many cases behind candidates that have had, as we’ve experienced in the last couple of cycles, trouble winning general elections. We’ve got to have support for candidates that can win.”
Translation into non-Senate speak: The big-money establishment Republican super PACs like American Crossroads need to serve as a counterbalance in primaries to conservative outfits such as Club for Growth and former Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund.
Crossroads, at least, is already preparing to do just that.
While they won’t become entirely invested in the business of incumbent protection — something McConnell has signaled he’d like them to do — they are moving toward a more robust presence in GOP primaries.
Oh, that’s a wonderful idea! Excerpt the GOP establishment has horrible judgment about which candidates to support. Sure, it’s true that Christine O’Donnell was a dead dog loser, but once you get beyond her, things get a little murkier. Except for his toweringly stupid “legitimate rape” comment and foolish refusal to get out of the race, Todd Akin would have beaten Claire McCaskill. Same deal with Richard Mourdock. If not for his dumb comment, he probably would have won. Sharon Angle was the weakest candidate to put against Reid, but the polls showed her winning going into election day. Would one of the other candidates have beaten Reid? Possibly, but there are no guarantees.
Additionally, the establishment always starts with the assumption that the most moderate candidate is also the most electable candidate. That’s just not true. The best example of it is the establishment’s all too typical decision to back Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan because of “electability.” Was Mitt Romney the best candidate we could have run? Was Carly Fiorina really a better candidate than Chuck Devore? Was Linda McMahon a better choice than Rob Simmons? Was Tommy Thompson the guy we should have chosen over Mark Neumann? The establishment would say “yes,” but these are also the same people who preferred Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey, Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio and Trey Greyson over Rand Paul. How do those decisions look today? So, there isn’t any evidence that the GOP establishment is better at picking candidates than the Tea Party on the whole.
So, if the establishment Republicans want to play in the primaries, come on in, because the water’s warm. They may even win a few battles, but I promise you this: They will lose the war. We will trash their reputations, peel off their donors, wear their scorn as a badge of honor and make them radioactive.
After it happens, they can’t say they haven’t been warned.