Say what you will about the Tea Parties, the conservative grassroots, the Republican base, the right wing anti-establishment or whatever you would call them; they have done a very good job of trying to take control of their party from the Republican establishment and reshaping the GOP in their own image. So far this cycle, insurgent hardcore conservative candidates have defeated or forced out of the party more moderate establishment-backed Republicans candidates in nine important Senate races: Connecticut, Colorado, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Florida, Utah, Alaska, Nevada, Delaware.
In addition, insurgent conservative primary challengers have managed to defeat the establishment choice in several important Gubernatorial races, such as New York and Florida, and win several House primaries.
It is true that the conservative base did lose several races and hasn’t succeeded in fully purging their party this cycle, an impossible task given the inherent power of the establishment and the difficulty of recruiting enough candidates. The important point, though, is not just the number of races they won but that they have made themselves a true force in the party. They have placed the Republican establishment on notice, forced their officials to listen to their demands, and, most importantly, made elected Republicans fear them. Fear of losing one’s seat is often the driving force for politicians. They have done more to take control of their party from the establishment than either party’s base has accomplished in years, if not decades.
The Republican activist base has made it very clear that moderates are no longer welcome in the party, and will be targeted for removal at the first opportunity. I don’t doubt that the few remaining GOP moderates, like Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME), have gotten the message: shape up or be shipped out. The Tea types have sent a message: it is their party now.
While I like almost nothing about their ideology, as an activist, I can’t help but respect their success at advancing their positions and defeating a deeply entrenched establishment. Maybe progressives should look to learn some lessons from them about taking control of a major political party. Right now, it is clear that the GOP fears their base, while the Democratic establishment proudly discounts and dismisses their own.