Reuters reports that the Tea Party is looking for candidates to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee in the 2014 election as a result of their votes in favorite of the fiscal cliff deal. The Tea Party is upset about the deal’s tax increases, and because they think it does not cut enough spending.
This is hardly a surprise. The Tea Party has been following the entrism strategy of Leon Trotsky from the start. Having already forced the GOP establishment to adopt Tea Party policy and strategy, it is now time to liquidate the old leadership and finish their takeover of the Republican party.
Putting up a primary challenge against the old guard serves a double function. It opens up leadership slots for Tea Party sympathizers, and it puts GOP members of congress on notice that refusal to follow the Tea Party whip will be punished by political death.
The Tea Party knows that their efforts to primary incumbent Republican senators in 2012 doomed GOP chances of retaking the Senate. But they will do it anyway, because their objective is to seize control of the political agenda and skew it sharply to the right — they are not in this to help Republicans win elections.
There are signs that the Tea Party bubble might be collapsing. Paul Ryan bucked the Tea Party whip and voted for the ‘fiscal cliff’ deal, albeit at the last minute. Ryan is in no danger of facing a primary opponent, but he is a contender in the 2016 Presidential race. It is unlikely Ryan would have crossed the Tea Party if he thought they would continue to be a force in the presidential primaries.
The idea that the Tea Party could unseat the Senate Majority Leader in a primary challenge seems rather far-fetched. But so did the idea that Richard Lugar, a longstanding member in good-standing of the GOP Senate old boys club would be defeated in a primary challenge. McConnell only won his last election by a six point margin, considerably less than Lugar, who was unopposed in 2006, and won his 2000 election in a 35 point landslide. If it could happen to Lugar…
A successful Tea Party challenge could well gift McConnell’s seat to the Democrats, but so could further GOP pandering to the Tea Party extremists. So McConnell faces a no-win situation. If he works with Democrats to forge bipartisan compromises, the Kochs, Adelsons and the rest of the billionaire Tea Party backers will put millions into a primary challenger who could well beat McConnell in the primary. But if he continues the strategy of universal obstruction, the Tea Party might let him win his primary.
There is however one other option. If the filibuster reform package passes, McConnell will be able to appease Tea Party supporters with elaborate displays of aggressive opposition to a handful of symbolic measures, while the vast majority of Senate business passes without obstruction.
Either way, the Tea Party is a problem of the Republicans’ own making, and it’s not going away any time soon.