11:13 AM EDT, May 17, 2012
If it has accomplished nothing else, the tea party insurgency has made Republicans vastly more newsworthy than Democrats. While the party of the left plods along performing the boring old tasks of governing, the party of the right is engaged in high drama worthy of Shakespeare.
The latest plot twist comes from Nebraska, where three conservatives have been vying to be the GOP's nominee for the U.S. Senate. The "establishment" candidate, state Attorney General Jon Bruning is, by traditional measures, a conservative. But apparently back in college he was a bit of a liberal, and that youthful apostasy made him unacceptable to the hyper-conservative Club for Growth and the tea party.
The official tea party favorite, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, was backed by a combined $2 million from the Club for Growth and from South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund. Stenberg is just the kind of uncompromising conservative Mr. DeMint is trying to pack into the Senate Republican caucus.
However, when Nebraska Republicans voted on Tuesday, they chose a third candidate, state Sen. Deb Fischer, who was endorsed by the tea party's favorite celebrity, Sarah Palin, and by ex-pizza executive and presidential candidate Herman Cain. Now, Ms. Fischer, a rancher from one of the most sparsely populated corners of the state, will go up against Democrat Bob Kerrey, Nebraska's former governor and U.S. senator.
This kerfuffle among conservatives follows by a week the dramatic upset of Indiana's veteran senator, Richard Lugar. Deemed too willing to work with Democrats, Senator Lugar was dumped in favor of tea party darling Richard Mourdock who speaks of political compromise with the kind of disgust most people would save for pedophiles or ax murderers.
Taking down Mr. Lugar was a mighty blow against traditional Republicanism, and it put all other GOP incumbents on notice that any deviation from militant obstructionism could bring out the knives. Like the climax of Hamlet, there may soon be bodies strewn all over the Republican stage.
Democrats are delighted by all of this. They think the purge of establishment Republicans in Nebraska and Indiana has improved the Democrats' chances of taking two senate seats in very conservative states. But they might want to think again.
Right now, Republicans have the drama, the enthusiasm and the attention of the news media. Sure, the right wing revolt is dispiriting to the men in cufflinks and wingtips at the Republican Capitol Hill Club, but out in the hinterlands a very committed political force is being energized by the battle.
And energy wins elections.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.
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