With a critical win in a fairly quiet primary run-off in Alabama, the Republican establishment had its first good day in politics since before its conservative base dragged it into the shutdown.
The Alabama race, which we featured earlier on Tuesday, pitted state senator Bradley Byrne (above) against Tea Party-aligned businessman Dean Young. Young embraced both his role as an outsider and his indifference to the expectations that he'd toe any sort of party line. His candidacy — and polling that showed him within range of Byrne — prompted the traditionally Republican Chamber of Commerce to invest heavily in a contest that was otherwise a contest between two broadly politically similar men. A few hours after the polls closed on Tuesday, the race was called for Byrne, making him the victor with a 5-point margin of victory. The Republican Party got its man.
The party also quickly embraced Chris Christie's victory as validation. The overwhelming win in an overwhelmingly Democratic state was celebrated — including by Christie — as evidence that the governor's model of leadership was the path forward for the party. "If we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey," Christie said during his acceptance speech, "maybe the people in Washington DC should turn on their televisions and see how it's done." Christie didn't actually want Washingtonians to tune in, but 2016 voters at large. And he didn't need to tell the Republican National Committee to watch: its members were probably wiping away tears as they watched from Capitol Hill.
Even the Virginia race could have been worse for the party. Ken Cuccinelli's defeat was hardly a rebuke of the party in the state; if anything, it was a rejection of the sort of hard line politics that Cuccinelli and the party's far-right embrace. (Including in the form of Bradley Byrne in Alabama, but location matters.) The GOP would much rather have a Republican governor than not — but if it can't, it's happy to have the do-its-own-thing conservative wing be the ones to take the loss.
The Republican civil war isn't over. It's probably still gearing up. But the establishment can clearly call Tuesday a victory in its fight to maintain political solidarity — in a year when such victories have been both hard-fought and rare.