GOP Sees Primaries Taming the Tea Party

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from The Wall Street Journal,

McConnell Win, Other Outcomes Likely Won’t Mark Shift to Political Center.

Republican Party leaders Tuesday made significant strides in their effort to defang—or at least co-opt—the tea party as an insurgent political force, as GOP voters rejected a number of antiestablishment candidates in primary elections.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a pillar of the party establishment who had come under fire from the right, triumphed easily over his primary challenger in Kentucky. Candidates backed by party officials and business groups advanced in Georgia, Idaho and elsewhere. Taken together, the results could help GOP leaders reassert their dominance over conservative insurgents who have been roiling the party for the past five years.

But that doesn’t point to any shift to the political center among Republicans on Capitol Hill, or a return to a pre-tea-party era, when compromise with Democrats wasn’t viewed with such deep suspicion.

House Speaker John Boehner, who himself easily defeated a tea-party primary challenge in his Ohio district in early May, saw some of his trusted allies triumph Tuesday, including Rep. Mike Simpson in Idaho, who faced a stiff challenge from the right. Nonetheless, the speaker’s room to maneuver legislatively is limited because House Republicans’ most-conservative faction has a voice in whether he continues as speaker in the next Congress.

Mr. Boehner, asked Tuesday whether he believed the tea party’s influence was waning, didn’t seem tempted to gloat. Instead, he argued that the conflict between the tea party and GOP leaders had been overblown. “The tea party has brought great energy to our political process,” he said. There isn’t “that big a difference between what you all call the tea party and your average conservative Republican: We’re against Obamacare; we think taxes are too high; we think the government’s too big.”

Indeed, Capitol Hill is littered with legislative standoffs that bear the hallmarks of tea-party influence. Mr. Boehner is considered unlikely to advance an immigration overhaul, opposed by tea-party-backed lawmakers, this year. A reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which is backed by business groups, is in jeopardy in Congress in the face of stiff conservative opposition.

To be sure, there are a few signs of a loosening grip by the tea party on Capitol Hill. The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a big water-projects bill over the opposition of Heritage Action, a conservative group that grades lawmakers’ voting records to help conservatives decide whom to support or oppose. And congressional Republicans for months have been steering clear of the tea-party-style brinkmanship that led to last fall’s government shutdown.

“Republican primary voters are speaking out and making clear that they don’t want professional tea-party groups hijacking primaries and picking their candidates,” said Brian Walsh, a former aide to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Those days are over.”

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