(Craig Shirley) – Establishment Republicans should keep the champagne on ice until after the midterm elections. Too many are already popping corks, pronouncing their strategy of “crushing” the Tea Party during the primaries as a crucial step in their successful takeover of the U.S. Senate.
There are increasing signs, however, that the GOP might not take control of the Senate and may only make modest gains in the House of Representatives. In states like North Carolina, for example, the GOP candidate hasn’t shown the ability to wage a major-league campaign. In other key battleground states, the establishment GOP is supporting problematic candidates, like Monica Wehby in Oregon, who can alternatively be described as pro-Obamacare and a plagiarist. The National Republican Senatorial Committee handpicked Wehby over a strong conservative in the primary. She is now running 20 points behind.
In Kansas, the GOP Senate nominee, incumbent Senator Pat Roberts, seems to consider Virginia his home because that is his only permanent residence. A sizable number of Virginia Republican voters, meanwhile, aren’t going for Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee chairman, who is the GOP nominee there, either.
National polls show the GOP to be about as popular as the heartbreak of psoriasis. The Democrats, for all their faults (and they are many) remain more popular. Republicans are not for anything. They are defined as simply being against President Barack Obama and certainly not for any form of federalism.
Since the 1950s, beginning with the rise of Senator Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley’s National Review, there has been a war for the soul of the GOP. But this time is different. The establishment Republicans loath the conservative-Reaganite-Tea Party-reformer-populists, viewing them as a serious threat. They stand as an indictment against the entire GOP insider culture.
Some establishment Republicans, straining to retain control, talk about nationalizing the midterm elections – as Newt Gingrich did in 1994, when he led the GOP take-over of the House, after 40 years of Democratic rule, and won the speakership. But the modern GOP has no story to tell the American people.
What really unites this GOP establishment? Nothing. Not Common Core education, not immigration, not war and peace, not government growth, not corruption.
The “iron triangle” that President Ronald Reagan talked about — the ties that bind together K Street lobbyists and lawyers, special interests and Capitol Hill — still exists and is more influential and insidious than ever. Increasingly, many American conservatives feel little loyalty to the GOP and have, in past, sat out the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2012 when they felt the party and the nominees were insufficiently conservative.
Indeed, polling shows that the millions who identify with the Tea Party are more loyal to that movement than to the GOP. They have united even more fiercely because of the party establishment’s wholesale attack on them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Tenn.), for example, said he wanted to “crush” the Tea Party. In Mississippi, the Tea Party and its candidate Chris McDaniel were smeared as racists. The GOP resembles a corrupt South American country — a party of “banana Republicans.”
Aided by piles of money from donors like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the national GOP was able to defeat most Tea Party candidates this cycle. Though the establishment candidates often outspent rivals by 15 to 1 or even 20 to 1, most did not get more than 50 percent of the primary vote.
Now in danger of not taking the Senate — which should have been like taking candy from a Capitol Hill staffer — the GOP establishment is complaining about not have enough money for TV ads. Why not try articulating some principles?
Republican Party resources instead have been spent hiring opposition researchers to dig up information not on Democratic opponents but on Tea Party groups.
From every corner of the corporate-consultant axis of access, the GOP’s establishment has rained down insults and invectives, on the Tea Party and its champions. Mike Murphy, architect of the campaigns of Presidents Lamar Alexander and Mitt Romney — ooops — has taken pot shots at Laura Ingraham for standing on principle.
Ingraham, though, has a better track record for picking winners than Murphy. She championed the insurgent campaign of David Brat over that of establishment bathing beauty Eric Cantor, now departed for (shock and surprise) Wall Street. Republican establishment types have also spread rumors about talk show host Mark Levin, another solid Reaganite and major domo in the conservative movement.
In the end, the Republicans may gain control of the Senate, but to what end? To simply deny power to the Democrats?
The GOP is truly a house divided against itself.
(Mr. Shirley is the author of two biographies on Ronald Reagan and co-founder of Shirley Bannister Public Affairs in Washington, DC)