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May 05, 2014 12:44 PM The Republican Establishment’s May Flowers

By Ed Kilgore

With the advent of May we are about to experience three straight Tuesdays with primary elections: North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio tomorrow; Nebraska and West Virginia on May 13, and then Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon and Pennsylvania on May 20.

A lot of contests in both parties will occur over this stretch of time, but the national political narrative is already semi-set: this is, as Politico’s Manu Raju puts it today, a “test” of the “GOP establishment’s clout:”

The month of May will go a long way toward answering one of the overriding questions of Election 2014: Can the Republican establishment finally tame the tea party and retake the Senate?

If you read Raju’s entire piece, you will quickly see the expected answer is “yes,” with the explanation being that said establishment has approached this cycle with a shrewd combination of money, force and preemption of Tea Party themes. The Revenge of Rove will begin with a blare of trumpets tomorrow if as anticipated NC House Speaker Thom Tillis wins the GOP nomination to take on Sen. Kay Hagan without a runoff.

Before we get knee-deep in the Adults Have Regained Control narrative, however, we should lay down a few markers about what kind of “victory” for the Establishment we are talking about.

For one thing, it’s important to note how much easier it is for massively funded Establishment candidates to win primaries in states with no majority-vote requirement for party nominations. Tillis need win only 40% to avoid a runoff against divided “true conservative” opposition in the Tar Heel State. If Texas had such a threshold, David Dewhurst would have easily dispatched Ted Cruz in the first round of the 2012 Senate primary in that state, and we wouldn’t be talking about a Cruz presidential campaign. South Carolina has a majority-vote requirement for nominations, which is why Lindsey Graham isn’t quite home free despite the individual weakness of the “true conservatives” opposing his nomination on June 10 (unlike Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, whose ability to avoid major primary opposition owed a lot to the state’s first-past-the-post system). And so, too, does Georgia, where predictions of the demise of right-wing candidates could be premature if one of them makes a runoff, where the more ideological voters tend to exert influence beyond their raw numbers.

The amount of money The Establishment is spending to snuff out Tea candidacies could matter down the road as well, at least in states where Democrats are fielding competitive bids, generally without all the primary thunder and lightning.

And last and most important, Establishment “victories” could be hollow if they involve “victors” who have largely adopted the extremist positions and message of the Tea Folk. Tillis, for example, is depicting himself as leader of a “conservative revolution” in North Carolina that has enacted controversial abortion restrictions, spending cuts and “war on voting” measures. In Georgia, one “Establishment” candidate, Rep. Jack Kingston, a time-serving appropriator, has sought to remake himself into a congenital skinflint determined to make those people work for their welfare benefits and food stamps and even school lunches. Lord only knows what sorts of positions he’d take in a low-turnout runoff.

So let’s enter this stretch of primaries with a requisite degree of skepticism about the victory parade for the Daddy Party we’re being told to expect. And there’s always the chance some of the pre-ordained victors will suffer the fate of Mike Castle and Sue Lowden and Dick Lugar and John Brunner, who were also sure winners before they weren’t.

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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