The fight between the Tea Party and establishment wings for the control of the Republican party is now well out in the open. It was hoped by the GOP establishment that the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races would break decisively in their favor.
The Virginia governor’s race was seen by the establishment as a chance to show that Tea Partiers were leading the party down a losing path. The Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli was a Tea Party darling, wholeheartedly embracing both its economic platform (lower taxes, shutting down the government and pretty much cutting all spending except for the military) and its GRAGGS (guns, race, abortion, gays, god, sex) social values platform and of course repealing Obamacare.
The Democratic candidate was Terry McAuliffe who represents all that is sleazy and corrupt about politics and who by all rights deserves to lose any election for any office. It was to the benefit of the GOP establishment if Cuccinelli lost by a huge margin to McAuliffe since that would enable them to argue that a loss to such a weak Democratic candidate represented a resounding repudiation of the Tea Party strategy. In order to get this result, the party withheld both financial and political support, pushing Cuccinelli to depend even more on the support of the likes of Ted Cruz and Tea Party financial interests, sharpening the differences even more.
Meanwhile, a big win by Christie, who is viewed with deep suspicion if not outright disdain by Tea Partiers, would reinforce the view that Tea Party was on the losing side.
But unfortunately for the GOP establishment, Cuccinelli lost by a very close margin of less than 3% and now the tables are turned. The Tea Partiers are claiming, with some justification, that they would have won the governor’s race if the party establishment had enthusiastically supported Cuccinelli, and that it is the establishment that is pursuing the losing strategy. They dismiss Christie’s win as meaningless since it was in a strongly Democratic state.
But the establishment is not going to concede the point. Former GOP congressman Steve LaTourette has formed a PAC that slams the Tea Party for putting forward losing candidates and is trying to have their candidates defeated. He was interviewed this morning on NPR where he still pushed that anti-Tea Party line.
So election night, rather than settling the issue decisively in the party establishment’s favor, has only made the fissures even wider and the disagreement more acrimonious. This fight is not going away any time soon and we should settle in for the long haul as the 2014 elections approach, as this is going to be repeated in congressional races all over the country.