The 'tea party' movement has driven out some GOP 'establishment'
candidates. The big question is whether activists' picks can win in
November, though that may not be what they care about most.
If Republican leadership felt a little unsettled about the "tea
party" movement and how it would affect the GOP this election cycle,
now it must be downright rattled. Tea party activists are proving
ready and able to shake up state GOP conventions and Republican
primary races, potentially endangering short-term Republican gains
in Congress in favor of a wholesale reengineering of the party.
So far, the tea party movement has forced TARP-embracing Florida
Gov. Charlie Crist to go "independent" in his Senate race, to try to
survive an insurgent bid by tea party favorite Marco Rubio. In Utah,
three-term Sen. Robert Bennett placed a distant third in the state
convention this weekend, ending his Washington career. In moderate
Maine, the GOP convention over the weekend incorporated into its
platform tea party principles such as restoring 10th Amendment
protections against federal overreach.
So far, the tea party's main effect has been to reject GOP
establishment figures such as Senator Bennett and Governor Crist, a
sign to many commentators that the Republican Party is being pulled
too far to the right. Whether purge or insurrection, a grass-roots
movement intent on picking off both moderate Republicans and
Democrats is a new page in the history of populist political
IN PICTURES: Tea Parties and Copyediting tea party signs
"This kind of insurgency is much more unusual than, say, [the
Reagan revolution or the Gingrich revolution]," says Charles
Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, in
Madison. "You have a sort of classic establishment view that you're
about getting the seats [in Congress] and that's what grown-up
leaders in Washington worry about [versus] this very intense amateur
movement, but one that believes in something."
A rightward turn in the party may complicate the task of Senator
Cornyn, who heads the committee to help Republican senators get
elected. Some of his GOP colleagues, Sen. Jim DeMint of South
Carolina among them, have anointed "tea party" challengers to
establishment Republicans. (Senator DeMint refused to endorse
Bennett in Utah and picked Rubio in Florida. DeMint says he'd rather
"stand with a committed minority than a big-tent majority,"
according to the Associated Press.)
Electability is Cornyn's top concern. "My goal is simply to build
our numbers so we can provide checks and balances to single-party
power here in Washington," Cornyn told the AP on Monday. "I think
[DeMint] has a different goal, which is to try to move the
Republican conference in a more conservative direction. If that were
possible and we were able to win elections all around the country, I
would be all for it, but I think as a pragmatic matter we've got to
nominate Republicans who can get elected in their states. …