Tea Party Senate candidates flop

The Tea Party’s much-hyped war on GOP Senate incumbents is officially a bust.

With Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Abortion rights group plans M campaign to flip the House Senate health committee to hold hearing on Trump drug pricing plan Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk MORE’s (R-Tenn.) victory on Thursday night, conservative groups have failed to net a single incumbent scalp this cycle. No other GOP incumbents face major primary challenges this year.

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It’s the first time since 2008 that an incumbent Republican wasn’t toppled — a major victory for the GOP establishment, who promised early on that they weren’t going to let outside forces elect candidates who might keep the party from taking winnable general election races.

Tea Party groups boasted early on that they would take down aging centrists Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMississippi Democrat drops Senate bid Dems look to keep up momentum in upcoming special elections Chamber of Commerce makes play in Mississippi Senate race for Hyde-Smith MORE (Miss.) and Pat Roberts (Kan.). Alexander and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump 'probably' shouldn't call use of FBI informant 'spygate' Graham on canceled summit: Trump thought North Korea was ‘playing him’ House GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe MORE (S.C.) were targets, as was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGiuliani: White House wants briefing on classified meeting over Russia probe GOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump now says Korea summit could still happen June 12 MORE (Ky.).

And remember when Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Congress must take steps to help foster children find loving families Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE (Wyo.) was going to lose to Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyMeghan McCain rips Liz Cheney over CIA tweet: ‘My father doesn’t need torture explained to him’ Overnight Defense: Top general says countering Iran in Syria isn't US mission | Trump, Boeing reach 'informal' agreement for new Air Force One | Chair warns of Russian mercenaries in Syria Top general: Countering Iran in Syria not a US military mission MORE?

Here’s a refresher on how the GOP establishment beat back the challenges:

 

  • WYOMING: Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Cheney, moved back to her home state to launch an ill-fated bid against Enzi, attacking the veteran senator on his positions and age. She never seemed to gain much steam, was never fully embraced by Tea Party groups and ended her bid in early January, citing family concerns. Enzi is expected to cruise to victory later this month.
  • TEXAS (March 4): Conservatives may have wanted to take out Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSchumer: Congress must stop reported ZTE deal 'in its tracks' Hillicon Valley: Experts worry North Korea will retaliate with hacks over summit | FBI works to disrupt Russian botnet | Trump officials look to quell anger over ZTE | Obama makes case for tighter regs on tech Senate GOP sounds alarm over Trump's floated auto tariffs MORE, but quixotic Rep. Steve Stockman certainly wasn’t the one to do it. He didn’t get backing from national groups and floundered.
  • KENTUCKY (May 20): McConnell was supposed to be the Tea Party’s biggest scalp. Even though the Senate Conservatives Fund and others spent millions backing businessman Matt Bevin, McConnell crushed him by 25 points.
  • SOUTH CAROLINA (June 10): Tea Party groups were never able to settle on a challenger to Graham, another immigration reform backer and bipartisan actor. Graham didn’t even need a runoff to finish off his foes.
  • MISSISSIPPI (June 24 runoff): Thad Cochran looked like a goner after being forced into a runoff against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who got the most support from outside groups this cycle. But the incumbent pulled off the upset three weeks later, though he’s still claiming fraud and trying to challenge the results.
  • KANSAS (Aug. 5): Radiologist Milton Wolf had baggage and skeletons that hampered his campaign. He might have been a contender, given Roberts’s miscues on how much time he really spent in the state. Roberts’s margin wasn’t huge on Tuesday, but he still won.
  • TENNESSEE (Aug. 7): Alexander’s 9-point margin over Carr was a bit surprising, especially since he did it with virtually no outside help. The veteran will head back to the Senate touting his bipartisan credentials the whole way.

 

Tea Party groups are shrugging off their flops, saying they succeeded in forcing several members to move to the right.

“Some people worry about our batting average. George Washington lost more battles than he won, but he won the war,” Senate Conservatives Fund President Ken Cuccinelli said Friday morning at the RedState gathering in Texas.

“There's a ripple effect to everything that we do and you can see it in the change of voting behavior from members of Congress,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller. “[Former Utah Sen. Bob] Bennet loses and [Utah Sen. Orrin] Hatch starts voting like Jim DeMint.”

“This is all about policy and I think it's pretty clear we're impacting it in a pro-growth direction regardless of each individual election outcome,” said Keller.

Others shrugged off the losses, pointing to successes in open seat races, like Ben Sasse in Nebraska.

“There's no evidence conservative policy can't win a primary and even the worst Tea Party candidates are running pretty strong campaigns,” said one Tea Party-aligned strategist. “The scary thing is what happens if a Ben Sasse or someone runs against a Thad Cochran? Everyone knows who wins that race. If even a Chris McDaniel can get more votes in a Republican primary than Thad Cochran then the movement is alive and well.”

Detractors point out that the Senate Conservatives Fund, the loudest instigator in the establishment versus Tea Party fight, gleefully spent its money attacking Republicans in primaries instead of helping in competitive races to knock off Democrats. According to calculations, the SCF invested just over $5 million on losing campaigns. When salaries and other overhead is added in, that rises above $13 million, or about 84 percent of its total operating budget.

“The good news is that Republicans avoided another Christine O'Donnell scenario and have a great field of candidates heading into the fall,” said GOP strategist Brian Walsh, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman and frequent critic of the SCF and other Tea Party groups.

“The unfortunate news is that D.C. conservative groups wasted millions of dollars attacking good Republicans that now aren't available to help retire Harry Reid as majority leader. Hopefully their donors will take note of that for the future and we can all work together next cycle to hold the Democrats accountable."