Primary season is almost over, and as you may have heard, the Republican establishment mostly won. Other than the shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, GOP incumbents largely survived primary challenges, and the candidates preferred by party strategists and moneymen in Washington won their nominations.
Plenty of factors account for this outcome, from dimming enthusiasm for the Tea Party nationally to the establishment’s newly aggressive tactics. But a big one is the candidates themselves. In many big races, the establishment and Tea Party weren’t really at odds. Republican voters coalesced around hybrid candidates who could appeal to the country-club crowd and the "Don’t Tread On Me" flag-waver alike. For these candidates, the Republican civil war ended not in a surrender but a truce.
Take Ben Sasse. A Harvard graduate and former Bush administration official, Sasse made his first run for office this year, seeking the Republican nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska. Sasse’s resume was that of a technocrat: It included helping craft the Medicare Part D program and giving a TEDx talk about higher education. Yet he ran as a full-throated Tea Partier, earning endorsements from the Tea Party Express, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, and the Club for Growth—basically all the national groups that have so bedeviled the mainstream GOP in recent years. Two weeks before the election, he held a rally with Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. The primary was expected to be close, but Sasse ended up winning by 27 points.