Yesterday, Republican Speaker John Boehner admitted that "there's not that big a difference" between the Tea Party and the GOP. The results of last night's primaries are just the latest confirmation that this is true. The civil war in the Republican Party is over and the Tea Party has won.
I know that many will look at Tuesday's results and see that the so-called "establishment" candidates won. But if you look closely at their campaigns, you'll see that they have been pulled so far to the right by the Tea Party that it is a distinction without a difference.
Foremost was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was challenged by political newcomer Matt Bevin. McConnell was never in legitimate danger from the inexperienced Bevin, especially once he moved to squeeze any path Bevin would have had to run to McConnell's right. McConnell's strategy is being guided by the same campaign manager who helped elect Kentucky's junior senator and Tea Party insurgent Rand Paul, so it is no surprise that the strategy consists of obstruction and opposition.
After spending roughly $12 million to hold on to an historically low turnout Republican primary, he now faces a general election where mainstream Kentuckians are sick and tired of someone who is the embodiment of everything that's wrong with Washington. Notable is that Democratic nominee, Allison Lundergan Grimes received 100,000 more votes in the Democratic primary than McConnell received in his. Even former Kentucky Republican Senator Marlow Cook, who first hired McConnell, no longer recognizes the new Tea Party version of McConnell. Commenting on McConnell's opposition to the Affordable Care Act -- which is already benefitting Kentuckians -- Cook said, "I don't know what Mitch is doing."
In the Georgia Senate race, pundits are saying that the party advanced the establishment candidates. But only in a field including Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey would Jack Kingston ever be considered "establishment." According to the National Journal vote ratings, Kingston was more conservative than about 96 percent of the House of Representatives, and he scored 93 percent on Americans United for
Change's Tea Party Scorecard. Over the last few months, David Perdue and Kingston have touted their conservative credentials against a candidate who supported Todd Akin, a candidate who called evolution "lies straight from the pit of Hell," and a candidate who used her position at a breast cancer charity to cut off funding for women's health services provided through Planned Parenthood. Now, they face a long, divisive runoff that will drag them even further to the right.
Perhaps it is easiest to see the truth of Boehner's statement in those candidates who are openly backed by both the GOP establishment and the Tea Party. Tom Cotton's support of raising Medicare's eligibility age and gutting Social Security, and opposition to the Violence Against Women Act and equal pay, has endeared him to a wide swath of Republicans. Cotton's unpopular policies pale in comparison to a dedicated public servant committed to middle class families who shares Arkansans' priorities like Senator Mark Pryor.
Tea Party backed candidates may have lost recent battles for Republican nominations, but by forcing the Republican Party to adopt their extreme policy positions and radical rhetoric, they have won the war. As John Boehner said, "there's not that big a difference."
The Democratic Party is focused on ensuring economic security for middle class families and providing opportunity for all, not just a select few. With the Republican Party's competing factions united behind an agenda that is obsessed with repealing health care reform and conducting politically charged investigations, the choice for voters in November will be that much more clear -- a Republican party that puts politics before people or a Democratic party that is working to create jobs and grow our economy.