Next year Republican primary voters will have an unprecedented number of choices for whom to nominate to the United States Senate. There have never been so many primary challenges against such high-level and long-serving members of the Senate.
There are now primary challenges in Kentucky, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kansas, and Wyoming. The challengers vary in degrees of viability, competence, and skill. Not all of them have been endorsed by conservative groups; not all of them necessarily will receive endorsements. But all of these states are represented by entrenched ruling class Republicans of yesteryear. They are also all states Mitt Romney carried by a comfortable margin.
As such, irrespective of the details of each individual challenge and challenger, conservatives should celebrate the growth in election competition in itself. At the core of our free market belief is that choice and competition perfects the outcome of any product or service. Politicians are no different.
Senators are elected for six-year terms, not lifetime appointments. Every six years they need to stand before their constituents and vouch for their record while explaining why they would be the best choice for a new six-year term. When there is no competition in primaries, they feel no need to improve or consider the concerns of their conservative constituents. Primaries offer alternative candidates, and often, better choices for the future. Again, this is something we should celebrate, especially in conservative states.
Some media figures and disgruntled Republicans are perplexed at the extent of the primary challenges this year. Many of the apologists for the banal incumbents point to legislative scorecards to express confusion over why their candidates are insufficiently conservative. After all, they contend, these senators don’t seem to fit the mold of the typical beleaguered moderate-liberal incumbent like Arlen Specter.
Here are some points we must all consider when examining the upcoming primaries, especially in the context of the current crop of GOP senators:
- The Hatch Effect: As Erick Erickson noted a few months ago, Orrin Hatch started a new trend among the ruling class members. Recognizing the mistake of moderates like Bob Bennett and Dick Lugar, Hatch ran all the way to the right when he began to sense a credible primary threat. Last year, he voted 100% with Mike Lee. This year he has voted for amnesty, ENDA, funding Obamacare, debt ceiling increases, the Biden-McConnell tax increases, and many of Obama’s liberal judges and executive appointees.
The sad reality is that it worked for him, and now Senators McConnell, Cornyn, and Roberts are trying to replicate the Hatch Effect. They figured out how to pick the lock. Move all the way to the right as soon as a primary challenge emerges and completely muddle the need for an alternative. Then they can point to a scorecard showing them voting the right way that year.
- Rebuilding the Majority with a Rotten Foundation: Piggybacking off the last point, do we really want to trust the primary-year foxhole conversions? Remember these are the same old bulls who nearly destroyed the party during the Bush years until the Tea Party saved the GOP. They were headed to a third wave election of defeat before conservatives united the party behind a message of free markets and anti-bailouts, eschewing years’ worth of bad messaging of the party by some of these same members. Do we want to rebuild the majority with these same members?
- The Paradox of Congressional Disapproval: All political factions agree that Congress is corrupt, Washington is broken, and members have a lower approval rating than used car salesmen. Yet it is only the Tea Party that is actually willing to do something about it. It’s amazing how everyone agrees that Congress is hated, but whenever we promote a challenge to a sitting member, the media looks at us like we are from Mars. They make fun out of our citizen legislator style candidates. Well, how are we going to change Washington if we continue to rubber-stamp another 6 years for every incumbent if they are not made to fear competition?
- A Voice, not Just a Pandering Vote: Even the foxhole conversion into voting conservative is incomplete and inadequate. We need elected Republicans who will give voice to conservatives and fight back against the left, not those who will surrender the war but make sure to cast a conservative vote in order to protect themselves back home.
Yes, John Cornyn voted against the amnesty bill on the final vote. But he voted for it in committee, and after conservatives almost killed it on the floor, he revived it with his phony amendment, which gave rise to the contours of the final deal. Obviously, given that he was personally on the fence with this issue, he certainly did not whip up opposition to the bill. Ditto for Mitch McConnell.
Moreover, no scorecard could ever encapsulate the degree of damage they did when they gave Harry Reid 60 votes to fund Obamacare, and publicly stood with Democrats against conservatives to sabotage the only legitimate fight against Obamacare.
Similarly, it is nice to see Pat Roberts support the defund effort once he got a primary challenger (after opposing it a few weeks prior during a townhall event). It is also nice to see him call for Kathleen Sebelius to resign. However, he was the individual who foisted her upon the country when he gave the home-state endorsement in 2009. We need articulate voices who will fight battles, not those who will ensure we lose the battles, albeit without their personal fingerprints on the concession during primary elections.
It’s important to remember that some of these incumbents are not liberals, or even moderates. But they are not conservatives either. They are ruling class of special interest career politicians who pursue personal power as an ends to itself. When it suits their need to cast some conservative votes, they will do so. But when they need to placate the special interests, they will jump in head first. They certainly will never put their careers on the line to fight for us.
When Republicans win back all branches of government and revert to their natural tendencies, just remember that you had a number of choices when it really mattered.