The Editors' Blog

May 8, 2014

That muscular GOP establishment

Speaker Tom Tillis’ main rival Tuesday, Greg Brannon, should not have been that hard to defeat. As a test of the GOP establishment, this wasn’t a real hard exam.

Some in the national media have cast Thom Tillis’ Senate primary win Tuesday as a big victory by the GOP establishment over the tea party and the likes of Rand Paul.

I don’t know about that story line. It is a little simplistic.

Tillis got around 45 percent of the vote. Greg Brannon, the tea party/Rand Paul candidate, got around 27 percent. The Rev. Mark Harris got another17.5 percent.

Speaker Tillis’ main rival, Brannon, should not have been that hard to defeat. As a test of the GOP establishment, this wasn’t a real hard exam.

Brannon, a Cary obstetrician, was a very conservative candidate. In one of the debates, when the candidates were asked which federal agencies they would eliminate, Brannon mentioned, among others, the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve. The IRS is America’s mechanism for funding, for example, the construction and operation of aircraft carriers. The Fed played a big role in righting the economy after the banking system seized up in ‘08.

Brannon also had that Romney “tyranny” thing to explain.

But it was more than just way-over-there ideology that made Brannon a challenging vote for some Republicans. Brannon had a difficult civil court case in the middle of the campaign.

Everyone is saying how more muscular the Republican establishment has become, pointing to examples like Tillis’ win. But the Republican establishment has always been muscular. What happened over the past few years is that it didn’t flex those muscles, and an energetic tea party took advantage of that.

I think that is coming to a close. If the establishment is awake, it can be formidable.

I was particularly interested in the Republican primary in the 2nd District. Congresswoman Renee Elmers, a pretty conservative politician, has been dogged for the past couple of years by the far right. Ellmers was elected with tea party support in 2010, but her loyalty to the Republican House leadership got her on the outs with the Club for Growth and Heritage Action. Which apparently didn’t matter, because Ellmers won her primary Tuesday with more than 58 percent of the vote.

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