Thursday, August 4, 2016

A tea party Representative gets primaried: Why this might REALLY matter

You had probably never heard of Tim Huelskamp before.  Only Congress geeks had.  He mattered.  He was one of the tea party guys who made John Boehner cry a lot.  He refused to go along with deals to raise the debt ceiling and such.  He was a tea partier down to the bone.

He was such a tea partier that Boehner punished him a few years back by stripping him of a committee assignment to punish him for refusing to go along with party-negotiated deals.  That's hard-core.  Party leaders don't do that except in extreme cases.  I'm pretty sure Huelskamp got a tear-drop tattoo to commemorate it.

And Huelskamp lost to a Chamber of Commerce guy.  Here's why this might matter.

Starting in 2010, Republicans in Congress began convincing themselves that if they didn't purify themselves, they would get primaried, and lose their seats to tea party challengers.  The problem is that this was bullshit.  I can count on one hand the number of Republican incumbents who have lost to tea party challengers for insufficient conservatism.  (Without resorting to binary-- fuck off, computer geeks).  Bob Inglis (SC), Dick Lugar (IN), and arguably Eric Cantor (VA), although that is questionable since he sort of forgot to campaign.  Every other anecdote of a tea partier beating an establishment candidate was either for an open seat, or had some other major complication to the story, such as Robert Bennett, from Utah.  Utah has a weird system.  You don't just file a petition to get on the primary ballot there.  Your party has a nominating convention to put your name on the primary ballot.  The state GOP yanked his name from the primary ballot to punish him for working with Democrats.  That's how Mike Lee got into the Senate.  Was that punishment for insufficient conservatism?  Sure, but that's a punishment that can only be carried out in Utah.  So, no, nobody outside of Utah needs to pay attention to Robert Bennett.

Inglis.  Lugar.  Cantor.  That's it.  Everybody else had at least some wrinkle.  Even Ellmers had a complicated backstory.

But if the point is to scare GOP legislators into moving to the right, all you need is to make a few examples.

And if the point for the Chamber of Commerce is to convince the GOP that they are scarier than the tea party, all they need is to make a few examples.

One won't do it.  Huelskamp alone won't do anything.  It will take more examples, and probably at least a couple of election cycles, but this is the first time the Chamber of Commerce has really fought back against the tea party.  But it will be a war fought in anecdotes.

And the irony of all this is that legislators of all stripes are safer in primaries than general elections.  Incumbents win.  Short of redistricting, scandals, etc., the probability of losing a primary is extraordinarily low.  But, most Members of Congress, like most Americans, are bad at math, and bad at assessing competing risks.  So, they overestimate the likelihood of losing primaries based on a few prominent examples.  A few more Huelskamps and that effect could work to the Chamber of Commerce's advantage.  Then again, it could just enrage the tea party even more.

Still, if you didn't know who Tim Huelskamp was before, you really should now.  This was important.  More so than whatever blather is coming out of Donald Trump's mouth.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I can't wait to find out what Tony Clifton says today!

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