For the latest dispatch from the GOP’s uncivil war, we take you now to Alabama. Because there’s no way we can fully unpack Tuesday’s election results without talking about the tea party’s defeat in Alabama.
At first glance, what happened in the First Congressional District seems like no big deal. The incumbent Republican congresswoman, Jo Bonner, is quitting to take an academic job, so the local Republicans staged a primary to pick her successor. Two candidates, Bradley Byrne and Dean Young, faced off on Tuesday night. Who cares, right?
You should care, because this was a very unusual primary – the first of its kind, likely to be replicated elsewhere on the national map.
Turns out, the big business wing of the GOP is so fed up with the tea party’s disgraceful antics – most notably, the government shutdown, which reportedly took $24 billion out of the economy and carved into business’ bottom line – that it’s now determined to rid the party of the tea party scourge. Alabama was the first test case, and business won it.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, normally reticent during Republican primaries, spent $200,000 to rid the party of Dean Young. The founder of TD Ameritrade did the same. AT&T, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot did as well. Their clout arguably made the difference on Tuesday night. Young, a tea-partying real estate developer, lost by five percentage points.
Why was big business so fixated on keeping Dean Young out of Congress? Because this guy was the tea party on steroids, a cartoon version of the standard extremist.
He disgorged birther bilge, declaring that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. He thinks the government shutdown was great, and in fact, “it should still be shut down.” He said that his ambition was to be a “Ted Cruz congressman.” Plus, he had a long track record of speaking out against a certain subset of the American citizenry: “I’m against homosexuals pretending like they’re married…Get your lives straight, or get back in the closet where you came from…You are not welcome here…(Assailing gays) is no different from speaking against murder and other crimes. It against the laws of nature, and nature’s God.”
Naturally, the local tea party groups thought Young was awesome, and they duly rallied to his cause. He also got some super PAC money from Sharron Angle, the tea party laughingstock who, as a candidate in 2010, predictably coughed up the Nevada Senate race against Harry Reid. But finally, finally, the business wing of the party establishment decided that enough was enough, that it was time to start emptying the Republican clown car.
So it backed Bradley Byrne, a former state senator and low-tax conservative who said that shutdowns are bad for the economic climate (“Anybody who tells you it’s a good thing to shut down the federal government, they really don’t understand our whole national system”). Perhaps Byrne would’ve won without the hefty infusion of big business bucks, but clearly the party establishment thinks that money was a good investment – because it’s planning to flex muscle in other Republican intramurals.
The big business strategists hope to defend the establishment Republican incumbents in 2014, by working to defeat the tea-partying primary challengers. For starters, Mitch McConnell is under attack from a Kentucky challenger who complains that the senator caved on the shutdown; Idaho congressman Mike Simpson faces a primary challenge from a guy who thinks Simpson isn’t sufficiently zealous (Simpson voted – gasp! – to end the shutdown that had thrown thousands of Idahoans out of work); and Thad Cochran, the Mississippi senator who, in a sane world, rates as a conservative Republican, is being challenged by an uber-conservative who – big shocker – frequently speaks to a neo-Confederate group.
More boldly, the business establishment is looking to bankroll its own primary candidates, hoping to defeat some of the GOP’s tea party incumbents. As Chamber political strategist Scott Reed reportedly says, “We are going to get engaged. The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.” Potential top targets include Michigan congressmen Justin Amash (who already faces a primary challenge from a businessman) and Kerry Bentivolio.
Yes, the ’14 intramurals should be quite the spectacle. Even the nutbags are stoked: “We’ve got the classic battle that the nation’s been looking for – tea party against the establishment.”
That was Dean Young talking, prior to his defeat at the hands of the establishment. For the sake of the GOP’s future, more of his brethren need to go down with him.
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