The Establishment Strikes Back

The Tea Partiers and left wingers lost in yesterday’s primaries. Look for politicians to tack to the center as the election approaches.

The results of the primary election show that the demise of establishment politicians has been greatly exaggerated. For both Democrats and Republicans, the lesson is that the strength of both the Left and the Tea Party has been exaggerated. Sound programs and strong candidates, as opposed to simply purveying angry rhetoric, is what’s going to win elections. The extremes are out; the center is where the votes are for the general election.

For the Republicans, the worst news comes from Nevada, where Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle will run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall. Angle is a sitting duck for Reid, who looked to be set to lose because of his support for the health-care bill. Angle, Talking Points Memo’s Justin Elliott and Evan McMorris-Santoro report, is a supporter of the patriot group Oath Keepers, which calls upon police officers and soldiers to refuse to obey orders that they view as unconstitutional and which is warning about the government plans to transform American cities into “giant concentration camps.” Reid’s base, the Wall Street Journal notes, is in Las Vegas, where unions are centered in the hotel and casino industry. Look for Reid to make a strong comeback as Angle flames out. The danger for the GOP, as with Rand Paul, is that candidates like Angle go national—in the sense that the media zooms in on them. They could then become poster children for extremist policies, damaging the national Republican brand.

The best news for the GOP comes from California, where high-technology, conservative women won easily. The business of the GOP remains business. Which is why the GOP may well clean up this fall. Former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina has deep pockets and could well defeat Senator Barbara Boxer, who has an extremely weak record. Former eBay executive Meg Whitman, who spent tens of millions of her own money on the campaign, should have a field day running against the peripatetic Jerry Brown, who represents the California of an earlier era, when loopiness was the norm. Now that the state is bankrupt, it needs sound management. Brown is beholden to public-employee unions that have helped impoverish California. The state’s parlous finances may end up making Greece’s look flush. If Whitman plays her cards right—as a fiscal conservative and remains tough on immigration (in contrast to Brown)—she can win handily. According to the Los Angeles Times,

In the state's moderate middle, where the election will be won, the result may depend on who is perceived as most able to restore the lifestyle and promise that made California great: whether Brown is seen as a progressive visionary or a status quo politician kowtowing to tax-consuming liberal interests, and whether Whitman is seen as a no-nonsense manager who can impose discipline on a government out of control or a lackey of business at the expense of the average citizen.

What about the Democrats? For them Blanche Lincoln’s victory in Arkansas was key. Bill Clinton pressed hard for her reelection and Democrats gave her a narrow victory. A motley crew of left-wing organizations, led by the unions, tried to bring her down. Obama will take note as well. Furiously criticized by the Left of his party as a traitor to the principles he ran on, Obama will undoubtedly continue to move to the middle on fiscal policy, emphasizing cuts in federal spending, as opposed to the outlays that left-wing Democrats insist upon.

So whether it's immigration, taxes, or jobs, the election this fall isn’t about to shake up national politics. It already is.

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.