The threat, as NBC News points out, is organized opposition in the form of the Senate Conservatives Fund, an organization founded by former-senator-and-now-Heritage-Foundation-chief Jim DeMint that still largely adheres to DeMint's far-right political priorities. The threat posed by the SCF to the NRSC, the party's official Senate committee, is severe enough that rogue Sen. Ted Cruz needed to swear off any involvement with the group in order to make nice with his peers in the chamber.
Among others, the SCF has committed to support challengers to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mississippi's Thad Cochran — though that latter endorsement may have been a little a bit hasty. As The New York Times' Jonathan Martin reported earlier this month, the GOP establishment has been putting pressure on those working with the SCF in an attempt to freeze them out. "[A] senior official at the [NRSC] called individual Republican Senate campaigns and other party organizations this week and urged them not to hire the firm, Jamestown Associates," Martin wrote, "in an effort to punish them for working for the Senate Conservatives Fund."
But the primary losses in 2010 and 2012 obviously pre-date the SCF. The Senate Conservatives Fund may be the well-funded and aggressive embodiment of the conservative push that elected Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, and Joe Miller, but it's not why all five of them won their elections. They won on the basis of their own campaigns and by running hard-right campaigns in primaries looking for hard-right candidates. In every case but Miller's, they won by more than 5 percentage points — a wide margin.
Mourdock, in Indiana, won by over 20 points, and he would not have lost even if his opponent had the support of the NRSC. When he went to talk to the group before he won his primary, he says that the response he got was, "What are you doing here? You know we help incumbents." Which the NRSC almost certainly did in each of these five races, doing everything shy of endorsing. Arm-twisting ad firms wasn't invented in 2013.
In fact, the stamp of approval from the establishment that NRSC investment would convey might prove to be more a liability than anything. We pointed out how the establishment / insurgent dynamic is playing out in a race in Alabama on Tuesday. If the far-right insurgent wins in that primary run-off — in the face of institutional Republicanism descrying his candidacy — there's not much reason to think that the party machine will be able to sway primary races elsewhere.
The Republican institutional strategy for containing Tea Party-ism started with an attempt to wait it out. Then it was to bargain, offering some wins (like the shut down). Now, it realizes that it needs to fight back. It's not yet clear the establishment can win.
Photo: Images from the AP. Clockwise from top left: Akin, O'Donnell, Mourdock, Angle.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.