Say what you will about Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, but they know a train wreck when they see it.
Although both supported the shutdown and were heartily supported by tea party groups in their own Senate races, neither has endorsed tea party candidates Matt Bevin in Kentucky, Milton Wolf in Kansas or Chris McDaniel in Mississippi. In fact, Cruz’s office confirms that he hasn’t endorsed anyone in the primaries. He may weigh in after the primaries. Paul has endorsed two very established Republican candidates: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., and Mike Enzi, Wy. He’s also endorsed Steve Lonegan in New Jersey for a seat neither party thinks is in play, with incumbent Democrat Cory Booker quite secure, and Chris Brannon in North Carolina, the most problematic of his picks.
There are a few important lessons here. First, neither Cruz nor Paul wants to be associated with – or take responsibility for – any tea party wipeouts if it can be avoided. They have to be seen as serious people if they are going to be considered for president. They may say nice things about the tea party generically, but tea party candidates are on their own in elections.
Second, this suggests Bevin, McDaniel and Wolf are so far out there not even the two most conservative senators will endorse them.
And, finally, within Congress and the GOP, there is more unity than the mainstream media portrays as the tea party devolves into a very fringe group backed by Washington, D.C.-based money-making operations. The latter used to be the tail wagging the dog; now these characters are just howling at the moon.
In a political universe in which House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is stronger than ever and Paul backs McConnell, the establishment has triumphed. While a year or so ago, everyone on the GOP side was a “tea partyer,” I suspect candidates won’t be as anxious to identify as such. Instead, there will be a lot of “constitutional conservatives,” “movement conservatives,” “Reagan conservatives” and “full-spectrum conservatives.” If this continues, the tea party, as many of us saw coming, will fold into the GOP completely, leaving little sign of a distinct movement. That is no surprise.
Historically, insurgent movements take over the party and rout the old team or they assimilate into the greater party. With the demise of some of these fringe campaigns, the big names on the right shying away and the passage of a GOP budget, we are back where the GOP was before the tea party.
There are conservative elements and there are moderate elements in the GOP. There will be disputes on tactics, such as a government shutdown, and disputes on substance, such as immigration reform and gay marriage.
Some may hold views that don’t align with the vast majority of the party, but there won’t be a political organization to support and push their views. And all this will transpire within the same political organization. The big tent is back.