Tea Party of Scottsdale, AZ
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The Tea Party Agonistes, WSJ May 22, 2014

The real reasons that GOP insurgents are losing in the primaries.

The media's latest political line is that the Republican establishment has finally crushed the tea party. The truth, as usual, is more interesting. The tea party has already changed the GOP on policy, and mostly for the better, but 

it is suffering this year because the candidates and operatives acting in its name have been motivated more by personal than policy agendas. That's a shame because the GOP needs the tea party to prevent it from lapsing back into the do-little caucus of the George W. Bush-Tom DeLay years.

Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.)—those are three Senators elected with tea party support in 2010. Yet they are now part of the Senate GOP mainstream, tugging the conference in a more reform direction. So is Rand Paulon domestic policy. And don't forget New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, who breaks with Mr. Paul on foreign policy but is making her mark as one of the Senate's smarter young conservatives.

These Senators won with the help of the tea party wave in 2010, but they also won because they were men and women of accomplishment. The tea party rode these candidates as much as they rode the tea party.

Now consider Matt Bevin, Greg Brannon and Steve Stockman. They are among the tea party champions this year who have lost by large margins in GOP Senate primaries. They didn't lose because the GOP primary electorate has suddenly been captured by "moderates," or some mythical establishment in the Burning Tree locker room.

They lost because they were inferior candidates who differed little from their GOP opponents on policy but seemed less capable of winning in November. GOP voters sensibly opted for the conservatives with the better chance to retake the Senate fromHarry Reid and Chuck Schumer.

Far more than 2010, the tea party this year has also been hijacked by Washington-based groups that have personal axes to grind. That's especially true in Kentucky, where a cabal of former aides to former Senator Jim DeMint force-fed Mr. Bevin's challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This wasn't about policy business; it was strictly personal revenge to oust Mr. McConnell as leader and establish the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, RedState and certain talking radio heads as the main GOP power brokers. Mr. Bevin was a weak candidate who attacked Mr. McConnell for supporting the 2008 bank rescue only to have supported it himself while he was in private business. On Tuesday he got about 36% of the vote.

These same Beltway groups also hurt tea party candidates by pushing last year's government shutdown strategy. The shutdown, which had no chance to succeed, marked the low point in recent GOP polling. But far from mobilizing populist outrage against incumbents, the failed strategy seems to have educated Republican voters about the futility of kamikaze gestures and the candidates who endorse them. Voters are seeing through the self-interest.

The shame is that this tea party detour will hurt the very cause of reform its supporters claim to champion. Mr. McConnell was brilliant in uniting his conference against ObamaCare in 2010, but he can also be an overcautious leader who fails to articulate a united GOP message or strategy. Long-time incumbents Mr. McConnell and Thad Cochran (Miss.) are too enamored of spending and need the prod of the tea party to stay on a reform path.

The broader point is that the GOP establishment, to the extent it exists, and the tea party need each other to accomplish their political goals. And at the local level they are often now one and the same. The candidates who win Senate primaries will need grass-roots enthusiasm to prevail in November. And the tea party needs the mainstream GOP incumbents who can win among independents and in states like Illinois, New Hampshire and Maine to have any chance of building a majority large enough to replace ObamaCare.

Democrats and their media allies are pushing the establishment vs. tea party narrative in large part because they want the GOP to be divided in November. The only way to retake the Senate is to disappoint them.

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The Tea Party Agonistes, WSJ May 22, 2014
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The Tea Party Agonistes, WSJ May 22, 2014
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