I used to think that the coalition which coalesced around us during Ron Johnson’s 2010 Senate campaign was serendipitous. Looking through the lens of Senate campaigns from 2012 and what might be down the road for 2014, I see now that we were lucky.
As many of you know, in 2010, I had the honor to serve as research director for Johnson’s victorious U.S. Senate campaign against uber-liberal Russ Feingold. In it, we were not only able to secure victory but meld together a winning coalition consisting of the state Republican party, local and statewide tea party groups, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and conservative advocacy groups such as the Club for Growth, Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservative Fund and others.
Little did I know we were the exception, not the rule when it came to conservative cooperation on U.S. Senate races.
Maybe it was because they felt they empowered after 2010 and an NRSC policy to stay out of primaries, but a number of groups saw 2012 as their chance to push the envelope further. They openly declared allegiances to candidates while others were still mulling over whether to run or not. For all their claims of the establishment trying to play the role of "kingmaker," few inside these groups would deny they are doing exactly the same.
One needs to look no further than Wisconsin’s own 2012 GOP Senate primary for an example of this. Within days of announcing his intentions to run for the Senate, former Congressman Mark Neumann had locked up support of the National Club for Growth, [Not to be confused with the independently-run Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group that works smart and wins] Erick Erickson; the head of RedState.com, the Senate Conservative Fund and others.
Groups were urging Wisconsin conservatives and tea party groups to "get with the program" before other viable, conservative candidates jumped in. Yet few, if any of these organizations had experience in Badger State politics to back up their claim.
No two people expressed this notion more than Erickson and national Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller. Keller openly attacked and mocked a group of Wisconsin bloggers who wrote a letter in mid-2011 urging the Club to reconsider their choice and would later chastise numerous local Wisconsin conservative radio talk show hosts who didn’t share the Club’s opinion.
Meanwhile Erickson used RedState to push Neumann, while simultaneously chastising eventual nominee Tommy Thompson. By mid-summer, when it looked like Thompson was sinking and Madison businessman Eric Hovde was surging, Erickson turned his fire towards Hovde. Proving in a single blog post this was not about "Tea Party vs. Establishment," it was about ensuring his guy won.
I find the argument now being perpetrated in conservative media that only Tea Party groups like the Club are righteous (while groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads as tainted) To be completely incredulous. In reality, these fights over candidate ideology are actually proxies interest groups are having between themselves. It is a fight about who has influence, who wishes they had influence, and who those without influence wished didn't have any.
Already this in-fighting and internal backstabbing has cost Republicans potential control of the United States Senate twice. Are conservatives really ready for a loser’s trifecta if it continues into 2014?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for lively primaries where candidates prove themselves in the crucibles of political fire. But I’m also for candidates who can win, aren’t gaffe-prone, and don’t give the mainstream media an easy excuse to paint the entire movement as deranged with a wide stroke of their biased brushes.
William F. Buckley Jr. once had a rule saying he’d back the most conservative, electable candidate and then rally around him post-primary. In recent Senate races we seem to have gotten the first part down, forgotten about the second and all but abandoned the third. How about we get over who gets credit for Senate victories and start achieving them first?
One wonders as Obama’s second-term agenda is rubberstamped by Democratic senators who never should have been elected or re-elected in the first place if any of these groups believe the in-fighting has been worth it. Maybe if they weren’t too busy fighting for the seat at the head at the table, they’d have noticed there is room enough for everyone.
Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has served in the George W. Bush administration, worked at the Heritage Foundation, and has served on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. He blogs at Lakeshore Laments and you can find him on twitter @kevinbinversie.