The headlines this morning proclaim the defeat of Tea Party Republicans in primaries Tuesday. There's something to that, for reasons set forth in my Washington Examiner column written just after the May 6 primaries two weeks ago. In this week's primaries, particularly in the Georgia Republican Senate primary, we see something similar, or as I wrote back then: “This year Republican voters seem more inclined than in 2010 and 2012 to vote for those who appear likely to be strong general election candidates and less inclined to vote for candidates who stand up on chairs and yell, Hell no!' ”
But as I also pointed out, the primary winners -- state House Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina on May 6, businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston, the top votegetters in the Georgia primary, this week -- have pretty solid credentials as well. Republican primary voters are not voting for (in the old phrase) Republicans In Name Only.
Let me add another thought on this. I think one major reason for this inclination not to vote for candidates seem as provocative is the government shutdown last October. Sen. Ted Cruz spent the summer promoting the shutdown and expressing the hope that it would somehow precipitate the repeal of Obamacare. But the walls of Jericho did not fall. Instead, Democrats' performance in the polls rose abruptly, as you can see in this graph of the generic vote for House of Representatives. Enough Republicans refused to vote for funding the government without an amendment repealing Obamacare to deny Speaker John Boehner a majority; so he went along (reluctantly, as he has made very clear) with them.
I think Republican voters noticed that the shutdown suddenly put Republicans' House majority at risk. And this at a time when the fiasco of the Obamacare rollout — a development which, if allowed to dominate the news, would hurt Democrats — was becoming clear. I think these Republican voters concluded that voting for candidates who stand up on chairs and yell, “Hell no!” would produce election results in which Republicans would lack the votes to do anything other than stand up on chairs and yell, “Hell no!”
I recently traveled to Britain, where voters are very shrewd about tactical voting: They cast their single vote for member of Parliament in their district in a way that will tend to produce the government they want in Westminster. American voters, I think, are less tactically minded, but not entirely untactical. Republican primary voters are casting their ballots in a way that suggests they’re trying to produce policy outcomes — in particular, repeal of Obamacare — and not just choosing the candidate who most colorfully articulates their anger and frustration: candidates who will sit down in their chairs and vote to repeal and replace Obamacare.