The Tea Party’s Primary Distraction

Jeremy Peters reports from Dallas, using the Katrina Pierson campaign to get into the story of Republican chairmen and leaders in the House facing challengers in the right. I did the same thing last week; I came away with the exact opposite conclusion about the meaning of Pierson’s run against Pete Sessions. Here’s the problem: Peters’ piece doesn’t offer much context or many metrics for the primary challengers.

In the House, in addition to Mr. Sessions, leaders being challenged from the right include Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, and Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. In all, six Republican committee chairmen in the House face contested primaries, including Fred Upton of Michigan, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, of the Agriculture Committee.

But Cantor (and John Boehner) faced “primaries” in 2010 and 2012. They faced only token candidates—Boehner has a policy of not learning the names of such opponents. Walden’s opponent has raised $10,000, Upton’s $1,000, and Lucas’ hasn’t reported any money raised yet.

Spoiler: These challengers aren’t going to win. And the hopelessness of their challenges is a source of some division in the Tea Party movement, on the organizing side. Running against John Boehner, setting up a “defeat Boehner” fund, is fantastic for media attention and fundraising. Running a small state Senate campaign in a low-turnout primary? Nobody pays attention to that. But the small campaign is winnable. In advance of next week’s Texas primary, there’s already some bitterness about how, for example, Katrina Pierson’s received kudos and media help from FreedomWorks, and activist Konni Burton hasn’t gotten that for her state Senate race.