For only a $50 million investment, the Chamber of Commerce thinks it can keep the Republican Party from going so far to the right in 2014 that it hurts business. The old establishment has come roaring back — but the Tea Party has already won the fight for the party's soul.
The slow-burning war between establishment Republicans and far-right conservatives came to a boil during the October shutdown, as anti-spending absolutists threatened to let the government go into default on its debt, which would have had likely repercussions throughout the economy. In the wake of that near-miss, the establishment — House and Senate leadership and business interests — declared a new commitment to ensuring that their candidates would win elections. For the first time in a long time, the party's official Senate campaign arm announced it would get involved in primaries, and the Chamber poured money into a relatively small race in Alabama.
Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, both sides are gearing up for the big battleground: 2014 party primaries, which will coincide with the renewed need to increase the debt limit.
With those contests likely to shape the balance of power inside the party, outside groups say they plan to ramp up efforts to defeat tea-party-inspired congressional candidates.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce early next year plans to roll out an aggressive effort—expected to cost at least $50 million—to support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election, with an aim of trying to win a Republican Senate majority.
"That will be our mantra," said the Chamber's Scott Reed. "No fools on our ticket." Over the past two cycles, in 2010 and 2012, the Republicans nominated candidates that Reed might think didn't meet that standard. Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Todd Akin in Missouri. General election voters weren't enamored of the candidates — in part, thanks to their far-far-right views — rejecting each in November and helping the Democrats maintain control of the Senate.
The Chamber will be joined by other groups with deep pockets, including Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC. As we noted earlier this week, American Crossroads isn't the juggernaut it used to be, as local groups reach out to a shared donor pool. The group may not have "hundreds of millions" to spend in 2014, but it will certainly throw a lot of money around. There's no guarantee that the investment will pay off. In 2012, American Crossroads had a lousy year, as The Times notes.
What will the Chamber get for its money, even it is successful? In some cases, candidates much farther to the right than it would have seen elected even ten years ago. That Alabama race, for example, was a choice between two deeply conservative candidates who opposed the debt ceiling deal. But the Chamber helped elect the one that was slightly less beholden to the Tea Party. The Wall Street Journal says that the establishment wants to "groom and support more centrist Republican candidates." Maybe.
But in order to counter the grass roots support of Tea Party groups, they'll need candidates that are a little further to the right. The Chamber's bigger problem is that the Republican base objects to things like the debt ceiling increase; an October Fox poll showed that 78 percent of the party objected to raising it. On the spending issues that have the Chamber so worried, the Tea Party has already won.