Establishment Victory in North Carolina Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

 

Thom Tillis wins and the Tea Party is dead. That seems to be the narrative in some corners after the establishment candidate for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina won by 19 points over the Tea Party candidate, Greg Brannon. 

Jennifer Rubin called the election a “wipeout” and proof that Tea Party groups “waste doners’ money.”

But is that the case? Not in North Carolina.

Rubin claims that Tillis is the most electable candidate and that everyone should have supported him, including Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mike Lee, both of whom endorsed Brannon, an obstetrician from Cary. But this is far from the truth. According to the RealClearPolitics average, in a one-on-one matchup between Tillis and Democrat Senator Kay Hagan, Hagan would win 43.3 to 42.5. 

While that’s close, Hagan didn’t poll as well against any of the other Republican candidates in the field—candidates like Baptist minister Mark Harris and Army nurse Heather Grant, as well as Brannon, all of whom are to the right of the establishment candidate. In an election against Hagan, Harris wins 44 to 40; Grant takes her with 43 to 39; and Brannon wins 42 to 40. The rest of the not-so-well-known candidates beat her by 1 point.

But not Tillis. He loses. Yet, the establishment has crowned him the “most electable” candidate. Does that make sense to you? 

In addition, Tillis had to move to the right to draw votes away from Brannon and the others. Brannon and Tillis had similar high favorability ratings (as did Harris, which hurt Brannon). Both men were embraced because of their conservative ideas. Tillis was forceful about the fact that he was heading up a conservative revolution in North Carolina. The messaging was hardly a loss for the Tea Party.

So why did Brannon lose?

The primary reason is money. Karl Rove and the Chamber of Commerce pumped in $2.5 million into North Carolina. Voters saw far more ads for Tillis than Brannon or Harris.

The second is that there were too many people in the field. All seven of the candidates to Tillis’s right added up to 54 percent of the vote. Once again, hardly a ringing endorsement of the establishment. Also, according to Public Policy Polling, if there had been a runoff between Tillis and Brannon, it would have been very close. So close that the establishment was quaking in its boots. They didn’t want to see another Ted Cruz-like victory.

But they can thank Harris for keeping that from happening—as well as Brannon himself.

While Brannon had good favorability ratings, so did Harris. And the more people got to know Harris compared to Brannon, the more they turned toward Harris—or settled for Tillis, who came across as conservative and measured in the last debate. Brannon didn’t fare as well in that forum, and this is a lesson the Tea Party—and conservative candidates in general—can learn.

During the debate among Brannon, Harris, Grant, and Tillis at Davidson College on April 22, Brannon came across as impersonal—an academic who could only quote the Constitution. While people cheered for his ideas, some people were put off by his approach. In a piece I wrote at The Federalist, I compared him to a biblical scholar who can’t seem to engage with people—he can only quote Scripture at them.

As I listened to Brannon respond to questions with citations of article, section, and clause from the Constitution, I just shook my head. He reminded me of my days in the ministry and debates with fellow Christians about the best way to evangelize. There was the “Declare the Truth” crowd, and then there was the “Build Relationships” crowd.

I have to confess that back then I was more of a quote Scripture, chapter and verse type. I’ve learned a lot since then. Connecting with people is what’s important. Touching their lives. Entering into their world and engaging with them on a personal level. Talking to them in a real and personal way. That wins converts. Not quoting Scripture. Or the Constitution. That doesn’t mean your message is watered down. It just mean that you’re communicating it in a way that inspires and motivates people. That’s how you make ideas real and principles personal.

Brannon’s approach caused some voters to turn away from him to other candidates, particularly Harris. They didn’t reject his message or the Tea Party platform. They simply wanted someone who connected with them. 

The lessons learned from the North Carolina primary are that people want freedom, they find the Tea Party message appealing, and they want a “conservative revolution” — but they also want a candidate they can identify with and believe in. They also want a candidate who is electable, and in North Carolina, most (54 percent) believed that candidate was someone other than Tillis, the sole Republican candidate who trailed Hagan in the polls. 

We shall see how it pans out in North Carolina, but to think that all is well because the establishment has won is folly. It’s going to be a hard fight against Hagan. My hope is that the Tea Party and conservatives will support Tillis, as Senator Paul has done, so that we can help Republicans take back the Senate.

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  1. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Thanks for the update on NC politics. Indeed, now is not the time for Tea Partiers (or any conservatives of any stripe) to pack up their marbles and go home but to unite against the real enemy: Kay Hagan.

    • #1
  2. Franco Inactive
    Franco
    @Franco

    Very informative, DC.  

    The contempt Rubin and her cohorts display when it comes to people who want less government tells me a lot about the Establishment wing of the GOP. 
    I no longer trust them, that is Jen-Jen, Karl Rove, Brooks (David) Jeb, Bushes, McCain, in short ALL the GOPers who stand athwart the Tea Party.
    All they are doing now is splitting the party. If the GOP wants to continue to lose, keep growing government and being Dem-lites. And by all means keep bashing the base. 

    Next step, third party. Good job elite Republicans!

    • #2
  3. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Tillis is the worst kind of establishment candidate. I have my Tillis mailer here: “LIBERAL DEMOCRATS are spending millions to help elect Greg Brannon…Greg Brannon doesn’t share our values, shouldn’t be trusted, and he sure can’t defeat Kay Hagan in November” – from the only guy who can’t beat Hagan in November.
    DC, have any insights into getting conservatives to not sit home in November as they have already promised to do as they did in 2012? 

    • #3
  4. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I’m worried, though. I’ve been hearing a lot of anti-mainstream tea-party types saying they will never cast a vote for Thom Tillis; they’ll either write in another candidate, or they’ll stay home. Since Tillis is now our only shot at unseating Hagan, this kind of all-or-nothing attitude strikes me as shortsighted and foolish. But it doesn’t seem possible to reason with these people.

    • #4
  5. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Eeyore–conservatives need to know that someone with an R behind their name is better than a D. They do more to help at least slowing the decline by voting for Tillis than staying home. Tillis has voted for some good legislation. It’s more than a Democrat would do. My concern about Tillis is his stand on amnesty. But a democrat wouldn’t be any better.

    • #5
  6. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.:

    I’m worried, though. I’ve been hearing a lot of anti-mainstream tea-party types saying they will never cast a vote for Thom Tillis; they’ll either write in another candidate, or they’ll stay home. Since Tillis is now our only shot at unseating Hagan, this kind of all-or-nothing attitude strikes me as shortsighted and foolish. But it doesn’t seem possible to reason with these people.

     We need to reason with them. Staying home isn’t an option. 

    • #6
  7. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Eeyore:

    Tillis is the worst kind of establishment candidate. I have my Tillis mailer here: “LIBERAL DEMOCRATS are spending millions to help elect Greg Brannon…Greg Brannon doesn’t share our values, shouldn’t be trusted, and he sure can’t defeat Kay Hagan in November” – from the only guy who can’t beat Hagan in November. DC, have any insights into getting conservatives to not sit home in November as they have already promised to do as they did in 2012?

     Eeyore, I actually think that the reason Tillis was the only candidate polling behind Hagan was that Hagan was running anti-Tillis ads before the primary–sort of like that situation in Missouri where Claire McCaskill gave money to Todd Akin.  Hagan really doesn’t want to run against Tillis.  John Hood is quoted on NRO saying that “Fundamentally, . . . arguing that Thom Tillis wasn’t conservative enough was a doomed effort.”  There’s a lot of press trying to paint this situation as Establishment vs. Tea Party, but I just don’t think it really is as clear as that.  

    • #7
  8. Franco Inactive
    Franco
    @Franco

    Sooner or later (and I think sooner) the line will be drawn and conservatives will stay home or move to a third party. Face it, there are basically two types of Republican voters: conservatives and moderates. At the same time the issues conservatives feel most strongly about are dismissed or given scant attention while the moderates rail against Democrats. Democrats are so bad they must be stopped! But conservatives see that they aren’t stopped, they are actually given cover. All the main issues according to conservatives are being ignored and conservatives simply don’t see the moderate Republicans acting as a counter-weight to socialism. The dreaded boogeyman Democrat is only marginally worse than the mainstream Republican. In some ways the moderate Republican can be worse. How? By trashing fellow Republicans, buying into the “republicans are racists” memes, giving political cover to Democrats, obfuscating the debate and more.

    People need incentives to vote and go to the polls. Using the boogeyman ploy while not delivering the goods is naturally going to erode support from conservatives. Moderates have this strange notion that people to their right have, or should have, the same general interests as they do.  

    Meanwhile, when the activist middle conspires to thwart conservative candidates at every level, why shouldn’t conservatives retaliate?

    • #8
  9. Job-locked Poet Member
    Job-locked Poet
    @

    We Tea Party purists (and “we” most emphatically includes “me”) tend to forget that a necessary prerequisite for a candidate is to be a good POLITICIAN. This is a skill that is independent of governing philosophy or even proven competence in a past career. It’s all moot if you can’t get elected. Socially awkward candidates should be encouraged to find other ways to move the ball in the right direction.

    • #9
  10. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Lucy Pevensie:

    Eeyore:

    Tillis is the worst kind of establishment candidate. I have my Tillis mailer here: “LIBERAL DEMOCRATS are spending millions to help elect Greg Brannon…Greg Brannon doesn’t share our values, shouldn’t be trusted, and he sure can’t defeat Kay Hagan in November” – from the only guy who can’t beat Hagan in November. DC, have any insights into getting conservatives to not sit home in November as they have already promised to do as they did in 2012?

    Eeyore, I actually think that the reason Tillis was the only candidate polling behind Hagan was that Hagan was running anti-Tillis ads before the primary–sort of like that situation in Missouri where Claire McCaskill gave money to Todd Akin. Hagan really doesn’t want to run against Tillis. John Hood is quoted on NRO saying that “Fundamentally, . . . arguing that Thom Tillis wasn’t conservative enough was a doomed effort.” There’s a lot of press trying to paint this situation as Establishment vs. Tea Party, but I just don’t think it really is as clear as that.

     This is true but Tillis was also running ads against Hagan. There were also plenty of ads against Brannon out there from Tillis seen by a majority of the electorate yet Hagan still trailed Brannon. 

    • #10
  11. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Lucy–I also don’t think Hagan was more worried about running against Tillis she simply saw all the money going into NC to support him and knew he would win. A case could also be made that she prefers to run against Tillis which is why she has focused on him.

    • #11
  12. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    D.C. McAllister:

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.:

    I’m worried, though. I’ve been hearing a lot of anti-mainstream tea-party types saying they will never cast a vote for Thom Tillis; they’ll either write in another candidate, or they’ll stay home. Since Tillis is now our only shot at unseating Hagan, this kind of all-or-nothing attitude strikes me as shortsighted and foolish. But it doesn’t seem possible to reason with these people.

    We need to reason with them. Staying home isn’t an option.

    I don’t know Tillis or Brannon but I do know Karl Rove. 
    I understand your point. Staying home is cutting off your nose to spite your face. But we’ve been told to hold our noses and vote for “X” for years because “X” will be better than a Democrat.  And Congress keeps getting more Progressive all the time.  How do you send a message to the Karl Roves of the party  that their “moderates” aren’t cutting it?

    • #12
  13. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Franco and Pilli– good points. I don’t have the answer. Feels like a damned if you do damned if you don’t scenario. Anger is the ultimate result of being trapped like that. I don’t know how to fix that. I still think a Dem is worse but I hear you.

    • #13
  14. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    I just don’t think that these considerations apply in the Tillis case.  Someone told me that Rush Limbaugh was on the radio saying the same thing. I am as conservative as they come; I was one of the last to get on board with Romney, but if John Hood says Tillis is plenty conservative, I’m in.

    • #14
  15. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Lucy–I will certainly be getting behind Tillis as I’ve said, but u do sympathize with those who want candidates who are actually going to turn the shop around. Tillis has has some conservative legislation though not all. His support of common core shows me he doesn’t get the pressing need to rein in leviathan and his views on amnesty concern me though he has said we should secure the border first. We need to hold him to that.

    • #15
  16. Franco Inactive
    Franco
    @Franco

    D.C. McAllister:

    Lucy–I will certainly be getting behind Tillis as I’ve said, but u do sympathize with those who want candidates who are actually going to turn the shop around. Tillis has has some conservative legislation though not all. His support of common core shows me he doesn’t get the pressing need to rein in leviathan and his views on amnesty concern me though he has said we should secure the border first. We need to hold him to that.

     How do we “hold him to that”? I apprieciate your position, but that’s a statement that no longer has any meaning, especially when it comes to the Senate with 6 year terms. Let’s get real. He’s going to push amnesty and wag his finger at the ‘racist’ base. Let’s continue to be real, the lines in the fight are drawn. If Rove and the establishment backed him, then he will do their bidding. He can say whatever he wants to the voters, but he wants amnesty and ‘secure borders first’ has been said by every amnesty-loving pol from day one. 
    Amnesty may be MORE likely once the GOP gains control of the Senate, not less, especially when Rove et al go around crowing that the people have spoken and elected pro-amnesty moderate Republicans. Mandate! So I’m not so enthusiastic. 

    • #16
  17. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    Amnesty is a deal-breaker for me.

    • #17
  18. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    And Karl Rove is a washed-up has-been who couldn’t win a one-man race.

    • #18
  19. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Franco—I can’t argue with your logic. Unfortunately. Discouraging.

    • #19
  20. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Lucy Pevensie:

    I actually think that the reason Tillis was the only candidate polling behind Hagan was that Hagan was running anti-Tillis ads before the primary

    Actually, Lucy, after the poll came out that Tillis was the only candidate who couldn’t beat Hagan, she began running pro-Tillis ads. I saw a generic “Tom Tillis is the kind of conservative we need in North Carolina” ad on a webpage sidebar, and at the bottom, in tiny print, “paid for by Kay Hagan for Senate”

    • #20
  21. user_2967 Inactive
    user_2967
    @MatthewGilley

    Does Rubin realize that NC elected its first bicameral Republican legislature in the last cycle? Does she think that happened because the NCGOP moderated?

    • #21
  22. user_961 Member
    user_961
    @DuaneOyen

    Oh, baloney.  Tillis is a liberal?  In what universe? 

    Brannon and Harris were severely flawed candidates and would have ended up getting bombed like Akin had either won the primary.  This is the opposite of Nebraska, where Sasse is clearly superior to Osborn.

    • #22
  23. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Eeyore:

    Lucy Pevensie:

    I actually think that the reason Tillis was the only candidate polling behind Hagan was that Hagan was running anti-Tillis ads before the primary

    Actually, Lucy, after the poll came out that Tillis was the only candidate who couldn’t beat Hagan, she began running pro-Tillis ads. I saw a generic “Tom Tillis is the kind of conservative we need in North Carolina” ad on a webpage sidebar, and at the bottom, in tiny print, “paid for by Kay Hagan for Senate”

     Eeyore, not that I don’t believe you, but do you have a reference for that?  Her anti-Tillis ads have been all over the news.  The headline on the Townhall article on the primary is, “Analysis: Dems’ Meddling Falls Flat in North Carolina GOP Primary.”  I sympathize if you are disappointed; I totally understand falling in love with a Quixotic, idealistic candidate.  My husband will never get over  Steve Forbes or  Rick Santorum.  But I don’t really think that this is a Bob Dole/John McCain/Mitt Romney scenario.  

     

    • #23
  24. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    My worry is that enough North Carolina Tea Partiers will become so jaded in losing in the primary, they won’t vote for Tillis in the general election and Hagan wins.  This is silly!  We can’t replace every establishment candidate with a Tea Party candidate in the primaries, and we do get wins here and there.  However, we should remember that even in losing in the primary, we may force the establishment candidate not to ignore our concerns outright like they do now.  I’m going to vote against Lindsey Graham in our primary here in South Carolina, but I will fully support him in the general election.  I guess that makes me a yellow-dog Republican.

    Turning the Republican Party around will take time and patience, but staying away from the polls in the general election guarantees the liberals win.

    • #24
  25. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Duane Oyen:

    Oh, baloney. Tillis is a liberal? In what universe?

    Brannon and Harris were severely flawed candidates and would have ended up getting bombed like Akin had either won the primary. This is the opposite of Nebraska, where Sasse is clearly superior to Osborn.

     No one has called Tillis a liberal. How was Harris severely flawed? 

    • #25
  26. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Duane–additionally, how do you know with such profound certainty that Brannon and Harris would have ended up getting “bombed” like Akin? That was a rather unique situation and your certainty is quite fantastical. Unless you have some foresight the rest of us don’t have. If so please share it with us. Or should we just trust your “judgment” as with Romney (oops binders full of women will get you every time) or how about estabishment picks George Allen, Heather Wilson, Denny Rehberg, Pete Hoekstra–wow a 20 point loss there for the establishment. And you want to tell us whose the most electable candidate? Really? Or wait a minute there’s another–Connie Mack. Let me see, he lost while Tea Party Marco Rubio won. So forgive me Duane if I don’t really take your predictions seriously. You and other establishment types haven’t earned that right.

    • #26
  27. user_2967 Inactive
    user_2967
    @MatthewGilley

    If only Minnesota had someone as conservative as Tillis willing to stand up to Franken….

    • #27
  28. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Pilli: And Congress keeps getting more Progressive all the time.

     What do you base this on? It seems to me that Congress got more conservative in 2009, when Brown won in Massachusetts, more conservative still in 2010, and seems somewhat likely to reach unheard of heights of conservatism in November.

    • #28
  29. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    I knew Tillis would win because we had too many “Tea Party” candidates in the primary. I wish there were some way they could have all gotten together and drew straws or something and just had one of them go up against Tillis.  Old Rove would really have been worried then. I agree with you, D. C., regarding Brannon not being personable.  After watching the debates, Marty and I actually thought about voting for Grant. I think she might have had a chance with more exposure and money. I will vote for Tillis come November and will encourage my friends to do the same. It’s not as bad as holding the nose and voting for McCain. We just have to keep his feet to the fire. I think Stad is right in saying they can’t ignore us. Tillis should know this from his time on Jones Street.
    In other news, Renee Ellmers may end up having to win in the American Idol contest against Clay Aiken. SMH!

    • #29
  30. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Lucy Pevensie:

    Eeyore:

    Lucy Pevensie:

    I actually think that the reason Tillis was the only candidate polling behind Hagan was that Hagan was running anti-Tillis ads before the primary

    Actually, Lucy, after the poll came out that Tillis was the only candidate who couldn’t beat Hagan, she began running pro-Tillis ads. I saw a generic “Tom Tillis is the kind of conservative we need in North Carolina” ad on a webpage sidebar…

    Eeyore, not that I don’t believe you, but do you have a reference for that? 

    I knowed I shoulda done a screengrab! When I saw it, I had an Eeyore Sinking Political Feeling® like I did just before Romney in ’12. I thought “I think she’s gonna get away with it.” I saw it like Sunday or Monday before the election. I don’t think anyone was supposed to see the tiny (required) “Paid for by” line at the bottom, but was intended to push any undecided voters away from Brannon and Harris.

    • #30
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