Republicans re-learn how to appeal to both the Right and center
By Noemie Emery | May 20, 2014 | 6:06 pm
The first good thing to happen to the Republican Party on May 13 was that Tea Party candidate Ben Sasse and establishment candidate Thom Tillis each won by large margins in their Senate primaries in Nebraska and North Carolina.
The second good thing was that on the issues it was so hard to tell them apart.
Establishment candidate Tillis had a strong and solid conservative record, and Sasse had a more-than-establishment resume, having been an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration and gone to Oxford, Harvard and Yale.
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To add to the mix, Sasse's establishment rival, Shane Osborn, was supported by FreedomWorks and by Phyllis Schlafly. In Alaska, American Crossroads AND the Club for Growth are both supporting Dan Sullivan, another ex-Bushie, in his Senate primary.
Sasse was endorsed by Ted Cruz among others, but don't look for Sasse to be backing Cruz if another government shutdown is on the agenda. Don't "expect him to adopt an instinctual reaction of 'no' nor ... that he will go out of his way to annoy establishment GOP leaders," the campaign put out after he won the election.
The strong opposition from Senate leadership when Sasse began his campaign suddenly ceased in mid-season, and Sasse and McConnell made peace before the race ended. "The much anticipated intra-party fights are not happening," noted John Dickerson in Slate, adding "the real winners for the moment are the forces of order."
Whatever their brand, the candidates emerging are focused, articulate, and able to bridge the divides in the party. What this means is that the Republican "war" will end not when the Tea Party beats the establishment (or vice versa) but when the Tea Party BECOMES the establishment, working its way into its series of structures, and leaving its mark on its outlook and function as it adapts to its orderly ways.
How welcome is this? Let's see. Since 2008, Republicans have been on an exclusion excursion, acting as if parties are cults, and not coalitions, more interested in defending their turf inside a fairly small enclave than in expanding the width of the field. Turn on talk radio, and you would think Jeb Bush is the most dire menace confronting the country. He, or Sarah Palin, or, of course, RINOs, are too concerned about going to parties in Georgetown than in serving the one unique Truth.
"There is virtually no sin a Democratic officeholder can commit so grievous it will cost him or her the support of liberals and 'Yellow Dog' Democrats in a general election," Jack Kelly wrote on May 12. "There is virtually no sin a Republican officeholder can commit so trivial it won't subject him or her to a torrent of personal abuse from other Republicans ... Democrats never forget who the enemy is. Many Republicans treat each other as the enemy ... You win elections by getting votes from people who agree with you on some things but not others," he said, citing Rand Paul, who accepts every wing of his party.
"If more followed his example. Republicans wouldn’t lose so many of the votes of people who agree with them more often than not," Kelly said.
At the same time, Jonah Goldberg noted many Republicans had lost the art of appealing to the right and the center, which powered the Bushes and Reagan to victory.
Sasse and Tillis did not forget it. After many long seasons of trial and error, the right may be learning this lesson again.