Unseating an incumbent senator is always difficult, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) presented an enticing challenge. In an interview with the New York Times, Roberts said he sleeps on a friend's recliner on the rare occasions he returns to Kansas. Later, in a radio interview, he admitted that he tries to return to Kansas "every time I get an opponent." Roberts might have been in trouble against a serious challenger. Instead he faced political newcomer Milton Wolf, whom he dispatched by seven points on Tuesday.
Wolf's qualifications as a Kansas tea party activist began with his family tree. He is a second cousin of President Barack Obama—whom he compared to Hitler—and a doctor, qualifications that earned him invitations to appear on cable news and talk radio to critique the Affordable Care Act as an unconstitutional attack on Americans' liberties. But Wolf's hopes of becoming the next great conservative insurgent candidate died in February at a Topeka diner, where a reporter from the Topeka Capital-Journal confronted him about images on his Facebook page (deleted before the campaign) of x-rays he'd taken of gunshot victims. Although billed as a tea party vs. establishment showdown, the Roberts-Wolf race was more of a referendum on social media protocol. And in Kansas, the verdict is clear: You shouldn't post x-rays of gunshot victims on Facebook.
The GOP's business establishment talked openly about making conservative hardliners pay for pushing Washington toward a debt ceiling crisis last fall. But that wave of Chamber of Commerce-funded primary challengers to conservative incumbents never materialized. The Chamber settled on trying to take out Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a second term congressman and Ron Paul disciple famous for voting on no on pretty much everything—even the Paul Ryan budget—and for cobbling together a bipartisan coalition to rein in the NSA's domestic surveillance programs. It was the first part that drew the ire of business interests in his district, and the second part that made him the villain in one of the year's nastiest campaign ads. Amash, challenger Brian Ellis warned, was "Al Qaeda's best friend" in Congress.
Ellis received a rare primary endorsement from an incumbent member of Amash's Michigan delegation, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, an NSA defender. But we're not in 2002 anymore; it turns out Amash's civil libertarianism plays pretty well in the western Michigan district that gave America Gerald Ford. Boosted by deep-pocketed donors of his own (including the DeVos family), Amash eased past Ellis, making him a sure-thing to win a third term in November.
Update: After the results were in, Amash reportedly let the challenger's concession call go to voicemail, and then ripped into him his victory speech: "You owe my family and this community an apology for your disgusting, despicable smear campaign. You had the audacity to try and call me today after running a campaign that was called the nastiest in the country. I ran for office to stop people like you."
The War on Christmas seems to comes earlier every year: Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), a Santa impersonator who was elected to Congress by accident in 2012, was defeated in a 30-point landslide on Tuesday, becoming this year's first (and probably only) victim of the Republican establishment's dissatisfaction with congressional tea partiers.
Bentivolio won his party’s nomination two years ago in a fluke after the incumbent, Rep. Thad McCotter, failed to qualify for the ballot and abruptly resigned. (A high school teacher and reindeer rancher, Bentivolio was the only Republican left on the ballot.) Bentivolio never fully sold himself as a serious congressman—he once promised to hold a hearing on chemtrails, the conspiracy theory that airplanes are brainwashing Americans with poison—making him an obvious target, despite winning the backing of Speaker of the House John Boehner.
More interesting than Bentivolio, who always had a placeholder feel to him, is the man who trounced him the primary—David Trott, a high-powered Republican donor whose law firm happens to process most of Michigan's foreclosures. As one registrar of deeds in southeast Michigan put it in December, Trott & Trott "made a living off of monetizing human misery." A big donor to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, and a member of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee's Michigan finance committee, Trott is an archetypal establishment Republican.
But he'll still have his work cut out for him: Romney won the 11th district by just four points in 2012. He'll take on the winner of the Democratic race between former CIA analyst Bobby McKenzie (backed by national Democrats) and urologist Anil Kumar.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) just wanted to get rid of a program that good-government advocates consider corporate welfare. He ended up in the tea party's crosshairs instead.
Since last week, voters in Kansas' 1st Congressional District—covering the western part of the state—have been flooded with ads blasting the second-term incumbent for cosponsoring a bill in April that would eliminate a federal mandate that gasoline include ethanol. "Washington, DC, sure has changed Tim Huelskamp," Tom Willis, an agribusiness CEO from Liberal, Kansas, says in one ad.
The ad was paid for by Now or Never PAC, a conservative super-PAC that has spent more than $8 million since 2012 in support of tea party candidates. Huelskamp, who once compared the Obamacare rollout to Hurricane Katrina and proposed impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder over his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, is the kind of candidate Now or Never PAC would traditionally get behind. Instead, in the week leading up to Tuesday's congressional primary, Now or Never has spent $260,000 hammering Huelskamp—and in the process, propping up his opponent, Alan LaPolice, a little-known Army vet and onetime actor who has lived in the district full-time for only a year.
Borderline personality: A Minuteman Project volunteer in 2005
In early July, Chris Davis issued a call to arms. "You see an illegal, you point your gun right dead at them, right between the eyes, and say, 'Get back across the border, or you will be shot,'" the Texas-based militia commander said in a YouTube video heralding Operation Secure Our Border-Laredo Sector, a plan to block the wave of undocumented migrants coming into his state. "If you get any flak from sheriffs, city, or feds, Border Patrol, tell them, 'Look—this is our birthright. We have a right to secure our own land. This is our land.'"
Davis' video was publicized by local newspapersand the Los Angeles Times. But the militia never materialized in Laredo, and Davis walked back his comments. (The video has been taken down.) Over the last few weeks, a smaller force under Davis' watch has appeared along the southern border, spread thinly across three states. The fizzling of this grand mobilization was another reminder that the current immigration crisis has been missing a key ingredient of recent border showdowns: Bands of the heavily-armed self-appointed border guardians known as Minutemen.
During the past four years, the Minuteman groups that defined conservative immigration policy during the mid-to-late-2000s have mostly self-destructed—sometimes spectacularly so. Founding Minuteman leaders are in prison, facing criminal charges, dead, or sidelined. "It really attracted a lot of people that had some pretty extreme issues," says Juanita Molina, executive director of the Border Action Network, an advocacy group that provides aid to migrants in the desert. "We saw the movement implode on itself mostly because of that." An analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors right-wing extremist groups, found that the number of Minuteman groups in the Southwest had declined from 310 to 38 between 2010 and 2012.