A Challenge to the News Media Over the Next Week

So the next cookie on the plate in the primaries of 2014 is Nebraska, where Republicans will hold a highly competitive contest to choose a successor to retiring Senator Mike Johanns.

I’ll betcha 95% of the media previews for this contest describe former state Treasurer Shane Osborn as the “establishment” candidate and Ben Sasse as the “Tea Party” candidate. These labels carry the connotation that the former is more of a “pragmatist,” and probably even more “moderate,” than the latter. But I defy you–and I challenge the media magpies–to find any issue on which Sasse and Osborn significantly disagree, other than which of them is the actual Washington Whore and which is the “true conservative.”

The “establishment” favorite Osborn, who styles his campaign events as the “Proven Conservative Tour,” rants endlessly about repealing Obamacare. He calls himself “adamantly” pro-life and staunchly opposes same-sex marriage. He describes the Common Core education standards as “an attempt by big government liberals in Washington, D.C. to force a nationalized agenda on our students.” He opposed the Ryan-Murray budget deal.

The whole “Establishment Versus Tea Party” framework for this primary appears purely and simply the product of an intramural contest between right-wing PACs and Tea groups backing Sasse and groups identified with Mitch McConnell backing Osborn.

A good example of the true ideological context of the primary was provided by Glenn Beck, who interviewed the two candidates and praised both of them, only expressing concern about Osborn when he boasted of his close relationship with Grover Norquist, whom Beck considers an associate of “Islamists.”

Yes, it’s legitimate for political writers to note who is on the “teams” of these candidates. But in every case, they should also observe that Osborn and Sasse are in an intense competition to out-wingnut each other. If Osborn does win, the idea that the hard right has suffered some sort of defeat is strictly imaginary, and part of the problem the MSM has in accurately describing what’s going on in the Republican Party.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.