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The last important GOP primary will take place tomorrow in Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to defeat — no, to bury — his Tea Party opponent, Matt Bevin. In the Nebraska Senate primary, Ben Sasse, who was generally viewed as the candidate most acceptable to the establishment, defeated three other candidates, at least two of whom presented themselves as Tea Party candidates. And in the North Carolina Senate primary, Thom Tillis, Speaker of the Republican-controlled House, defeated Greg Brannon, a Tea Party firebrand. And so it has gone across the country, with so-called establishment candidates defeating Tea Party candidates.
Even so, the Tea Party won — and won in a sweep.
To see what I mean, look at this excerpt from a an article on the North Carolina primary in the Economist:
[I]f Mr Tillis was the establishment choice in what has become a swing state in presidential races, this says something about how the establishment has been reshaped by the Tea Party. Under his watch, the statehouse has passed a clutch of laws that infuriate Democrats. These include: a measure to make abortion clinics meet the same standards as surgeries, which has in the past proved an effective tactic to close them down; a sharp reduction in the value of unemployment benefits; and an election law that restricts the kind of identification that may be used at the ballot box and allows any registered voter to challenge the eligibility of any other voter—measures that are likely to depress turnout in a way that suits the GOP. The legislature also passed a bill that bans sharia (Islamic law), a form of jurisprudence that has yet to catch on in the Tar Heel state.
As if this legislative record were not enough to prove that Mr Tillis is a proper conservative, he made it clear on the campaign trail that he opposes Common Core, a sensible set of federal educational standards that have morphed into a test of conservative credentials. He also opposes immigration reform until the border is secure (ie, never), adding at one point that Israel had the right ideas about how to keep illegal migrants out. In other words, the battle within the GOP at the start of the primary season is between conservatives and ultra-conservatives.
Subtract the Economist’s only-too-usual smugness and condescension and you’re left with the fundamental fact of GOP politics as we head into the midterm elections of 2014: The Tea Party has reshaped the entire party, moving it to the right on all the issues and giving it that essential element, courage.
Ben Sasse, an establishment candidate? Call him that if you want, but just look where he stands on the issues. As Bob Costa put it on the Ricochet podcast last week, Ben Sasse is Ted Cruz with charm. (I myself consider Ted Cruz plenty charming in his own way, but you can see what Bob was getting at.) Even Mitch McConnell ran as an unabashed and forthright conservative, insisting he was the better candidate not because he would make pretty with President Obama and Harry Reid but because he, and not Matt Bevin, was in the strongest position to fight them.
Senate Republicans with fight. This is beautiful to behold.
Thank you, Tea Party.