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November 07, 2013 12:58 PM Graham, Rubio and the Tea Party Intimidation Factor

By Ed Kilgore

In considering Will Marshall’s argument that Tuesday’s primaries show that Tea Party influence on the GOP is on the wane, I countered with the suggestion that intimidation of Republicans by the Tea Folk is a more important part of its strategy than replacing “RINOs” in primaries.

A case in point is the ongoing pander-fest being conducted by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who faces divided and underfunded Tea Party primary opposition next year, and is trying to overcome conservative anger at his role in supporting immigration reform legislation and then ending the government shutdown.

First you had him risking the Mother of All Filibuster Wars with a threat to hold up all presidential nominations unless he’s given fodder for more Benghazi! investigations. Now we have this, via National Review’s Robert Costa (burnishing his credentials as the go-to conservative reporter of his era):

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is ramping up his pro-life efforts, and today unveiled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“These babies who have been taken out of the womb at 20 weeks can feel pain, and some have survived,” Graham says, in an interview with National Review Online. “We need to get the courts to establish this as a legitimate state interest to protect unborn children….”

The planted-axiom rhetoric about “babies” is as much the point as the legislation, which has no chance of passage (to the chagrin of “pro-life lawmakers” cited by Costa who clearly think Graham is grandstanding).

Graham, who is up for reelection next year, says it’s important to bring social issues back into the fold as the midterms approach. “The goal is to have a vote in 2014, to make sure we vote on it,” he says. “It’s worth having this debate. The more people understand what we’re trying to do, the more public support will grow over time.

More to the point, it will be harder to purge Graham as a traitor to The Cause if he’s out there fighting for the victims of the American Holocaust.

Another validator of the Tea Folk’s power to intimidate is its onetime hero Marco Rubio. Is there any right-wing meme, position, or opinion the man hasn’t embraced since his movement-conservative stock fell over the immigration bill? If so, I must have missed it. Just yesterday Rubio offered post-election analysis closely toeing the Movement line that Cuccinelli lost because the party didn’t give him sufficient resources, while Christie’s win had zero implications for the national party.

These are just data points, of course. But I’d argue that Graham’s and Rubio’s frantic efforts to propitiate radical conservative opinion are better measurements of the Tea Party’s influence on the GOP than a very narrow loss to a rigorously conservative and massively-financed candidate in Alabama.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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