Another Tea Party Republican has decided to challenge an established Republican Senator. Tennessee state Representative Joe Carr has announced his plans to take on Alexander, a two term Senator who once served as George H. W. Bush’s Education Secretary.
Alexander becomes the newest target on a growing list of Republican politicians who have aroused the ire of Tea Party activists. Already this year South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has drawn multiple primary opponents to his right and Mitch McConnell drew a Tea Party challenge when Louisville businessman Matt Bevin entered the Kentucky Senate race. In their efforts to purge the GOP of any semblance of sanity, the Tea Party crowd has now targeted three reliably conservative US Senators on the grounds that they just are not conservative enough.
It is too early to tell whether Carr, Bevin or any of Lindsey Graham’s primary opponents will mount campaigns formidable enough to unseat the firmly entrenched Republican Senators, but if history is a guide, the Tea Party candidates should not be underestimated. In 2010, Tea Party stalwart Mike Lee was able to oust conservative Senator Bob Bennett at the Utah nominating convention, and in 2012, Richard Mourdock delivered an electoral knockout punch to moderate conservative Republican Senator Richard Lugar in Indiana, before losing to a Democrat in the November election.
In addition, Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell was able to beat moderate House Representative Mike Castle in Delaware in the 2010 Senate race. Of course, like Mourdock, she was then defeated in the general election. Although the GOP establishment once welcomed the agitated angry ageing white folks of the Tea Party into their ranks, ginning up support to undermine President Obama and to take back the House in 2010, the strategy has turned out to be double-edged. Although the swelling Tea Party base helped the GOP reclaim the US House in 2010, they also elected candidates that shun compromise and in so doing have all but paralyzed effective governance in America.
In addition, their insistence on ideological purity has now put moderate and mainstream conservative GOP lawmakers at considerable risk of defeat for being insufficiently radical right-wing. This dynamic has caused headaches for Republican strategists as many Tea Party candidates have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In 2010, Tea Party candidates O’Donnell (DE), Angle (NV) and Buck (CO) arguably cost the GOP three Senate races that could have led to Republicans regaining control of the US Senate. In 2012, Missouri primary voters opted for Christian Right extremist Todd Akin, now infamous for his “legitimate rape” comment, only to squander their chances to defeat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. Indiana GOP voters chose Richard Mourdock over Richard Lugar. Like Akin, Mourdock’s comments on rape and religion proved his undoing.
By declaring open season on “RINO Republicans”, Tea Party activists continue to signify their disdain for pragmatic governance and they continue to put the future of their party and their country in peril. For their part the Republican Party leadership must feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein. By ginning up support for Tea Party radicalism in 2010, the Republican Party created a movement that is now endanger of swallowing the party leadership. They already have a paralyzing grip on the US House, and they have made inroads in the Senate with Senators Ted Cruz (RX), Rand Paul (KY) and Mike Lee (UT) leading the charge. Joe Carr is already touting his support from Rand Paul in his bid to unseat Lamar Alexander. If Carr can muster a strong enough campaign to defeat Alexander, the general election race in Tennessee could become uncharacteristically competitive. The Republicans are hastening the process of eating their own as the Tea Party extremists continue to identify longstanding conservative Republicans as political enemies to be hunted down and defeated in primary elections.