Episode 2014: The Republican Empire Strikes Back

The unpalatable candidates of 2010 and 2012 are being weeded out before there are even primaries because, after five years of Tea Party insurgency, the GOP establishment is finally hitting back.

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No, really, the GOP is pretty sure it's going to take control of the Senate this time. The unpalatable candidates of 2010 and 2012 are being weeded out before there are even primaries, according to The New York Times, because, after five years of Tea Party insurgency, the GOP establishment is finally hitting back.

Do you remember Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Linda McMahon, Christine O'Donnell, and Richard Mourdock? Republican leaders and donors certainly do — a crop of 2010 and 2012 Republican candidates for the Senate that could have put the party on the brink of a majority in the chamber, but all of whom lost (at various degrees of embarrassment) once the general election rolled around. (Miller, happily for the party, was beaten by another Republican.) Now, as they prepare for the November elections, the GOP feels like it's finally going to get the job done.

"People like to hang out with winners," an investment banker and Republican donor told Politico — and the party feels like it's going to win. In mid-October of last year, in the wake of the government shutdown debacle, that was very much not the case. But then three things happened: Healthcare.gov was a flop, the establishment won a key fight in Alabama, and the party decided it would stop any new Mourdock-Akins before the voters got a look at them.

That Alabama race, between a staunchly conservative candidate backed by the GOP and a slightly more conservative one backed by Tea Partiers, gave donors a new sense of confidence. The race "made party leaders and donors less nervous that Republican primaries would yield another batch of unelectable candidates this year," Politico writes, including at the Chamber of Commerce, which invested heavily on the side of the establishment candidate. Since, you know, it's the establishment.

Shortly afterward, the pro-business group announced that it would extend that investment, focusing on other primaries in other states. "We’re not picking a fight with the basis for the Tea Party," strategist Scott Reed told the Times. But "some have hijacked the Tea Party model and taken it to an extreme level." Those hijackers are not only the candidates listed above, but the newly-chastened Republicans on Capitol Hill who advocated the debt limit fight last year. Reed's open arms for the Tea Party is what's known as "covering your bases." The Chamber doesn't want to alienate Tea Party voters that will flock to the polls in the primaries, but it doesn't want those voters picking the candidates on the November ballot either.

"In House and Senate races across the country, many of the traditional and influential centers of power within the party are taking sides in primaries," the Times reports, "overwhelming challengers on the right with television ads and, in some cases, retaliating against those who are helping the insurgents." The newspaper points to an aggressively conservative state senator in Northern Virginia, Richard Black, who announced a planned run and then quickly dropped out. "It was pretty evident that [my opponent] had all the machinery," he said. Which was exactly as the political machine intended.

Even the National Republican Senate Committee, which traditionally has not intervened in primary races, is weighing in to block insurgent candidates. The NRSC has been leveraging its clout to keep consultants form helping non-kosher candidates. Sitting Republican senators have been similarly strong-arming donors to independent PACs. "I can’t give to you because I’ve been told I won’t have access to Republican leadership," the president of FreedomWorks said donors had been told. "[T]hey’re playing hardball."

So assuming the Republican Party can keep candidates too conservative for the general election off the ballot in November, how likely is it that it will retake the Senate? Politico puts it at 50-50, which is both something of a cop-out and also probably amusing to the experts that Politico's Mike Allen disparaged for putting the likelihood at 54 percent.

The GOP leadership will take 54 percent odds. Especially if with it comes the final triumph of the Republican establishment over the insurgents that have been such a headache these past few years. And once the establishment strikes back, the rebels are defeated once and for all, right?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.