The “Tea Party Genie Back in the Bottle” Narrative, Coming to an MSM Outlet Near You

Well, Politico has emphatically declared the North Carolina primary results a “big night for the GOP Establishment.” That’s how Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa read it at WaPo, too, as did Jonathan Martin of the New York Times. I assume that’s how it’s going over on TV and radio, as well.

It’s true that had Thom Tillis been forced into a runoff it would have given the “Republican Establishment” a lot of heartburn and cost it a lot of money. Once that is said, however, I just don’t see last night as much of a landmark for the famed Establishment, and explained why in a column at TPMCafe.

For one thing, the “Establishment” did not have a great night in House races in NC. But even if all you do is to focus on Tillis’ win, it came at the sort of price that I suspect “Establishment” candidates are going to be willing to pay all over the country this year: abject surrender to party extremists on every key issues.

As it stands, Thom Tillis will be entering the general election campaign against Kay Hagan having proudly and redundantly branded himself as a “conservative revolutionary” leading battles against education funding and abortion rights and voting rights in a state that is ambivalent at best about its shiny new right-wing government. And if there were any doubts about perceptions of Tillis, I’d say publicity about the 2011 “divide and conquer” video will take care of them eventually. Any “move to the center” by Tillis will be very, very difficult.

Now that’s not to say Tillis is going to lose in November or that the “Republican Establishment” won’t in the end have a good year; it’s just too early to tell; there are many, many dynamics helping Republicans right now that have zero to do with ideological positioning. But the narrative building just about everywhere of the Grownups in the GOP putting the Tea Party genie back in the bottle and striding forward to victory in 2014 and 2016 because they’ve moderated themselves is just plain wrong. I’ll keep pushing back against it as long as others keep repeating it.

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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.