Phil Rucker is out with a smartly conceived piece that asks whether “Tea Party” congressmen are finally courting a backlash from the old guard. Smart concept, like I said, but the evidence simply isn’t to be found here. Let’s start with the congressmen Rucker spotlights.
Rep. Walter Jones, elected in 1994, described as “an outspoken iconoclast who has repeatedly antagonized Boehner.”
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, elected in 2010, who has never recovered from stories about affairs, one of which ended with an abortion.
Rep. Justin Amash, elected in 2010, against whom moderates “are recruiting a Republican primary challenger who they hope will serve the old-fashioned way.”
Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, elected in 2012, facing “a well-funded primary campaign” after winning by accident because Rep. Thad McCotter’s career imploded.
You can spot the problem, right? Four members in trouble does not equal much of a backlash in a 233-member conference. Of these poor saps, one (DesJarlais) is in trouble because of a sex scandal, not his politics. One (Jones) predates the Tea Party wave, and has actually faced multiple primary challenges ever since he became a hard-core vote against funding America’s wars. Taylor Griffin, his latest challenger, specifically says he’s going after Jones because he’s too “liberal.”
That leaves us with two challenged candidates, both in Michigan. Bentivolio, as Rucker reports, was a right-winger who thought he’d be a protest candidate, and ended up winning by default. That’s a fluke. Over to Amash—and aha, finally, we have one Republican congressman who actually is courting a backlash! But he’s opposed the party on much more than fiscal policy. He nearly got the House to defund the NSA, for example. If it’s a struggle to find a generic right-wing Tea Partier who’s in real danger now, that’s because the map-makers wanted it that way.