The victory of Thom Tillis in the Republican Senate primary in North Carolina last night is sure to prompt a lot of pieces about the death of the tea party. The establishment guy won! The tea party loon got whomped! The adults are back in charge. But Ed Kilgore gets it right:
For one thing, the "Establishment" did not have a great night in House races in NC. But even if all you do is to focus on Tillis' win, it came at the sort of price that I suspect "Establishment" candidates are going to be willing to pay all over the country this year: abject surrender to party extremists on every key issues.
As it stands, Thom Tillis will be entering the general election campaign against Kay Hagan having proudly and redundantly branded himself as a "conservative revolutionary" leading battles against education funding and abortion rights and voting rights in a state that is ambivalent at best about its shiny new right-wing government. And if there were any doubts about perceptions of Tillis, I'd say publicity about the 2011 "divide and conquer" video will take care of them eventually. Any "move to the center" by Tillis will be very, very difficult.
The tea party basically took over the GOP four years ago. Sure, there are still candidates who are more or less conservative than others, but even the "establishment" candidates these days are creatures of the tea party. As Dave Weigel says, there's really not much contest left. The tea party has already won:
In 2014, the biggest target of the year so far was Thom Tillis, the leader of the ultra-conservative North Carolina legislature, which was elected with the help of Americans for Prosperity's Art Pope — who, following the 2012 elections, is now the state's budget director. The "Tea Party," as seen in the movement's best-funded national organization, had already won in North Carolina and made it a test kitchen for ALEC model legislation. Where, as I asked last week, was the space to the right? There wasn't any. This is why Democrats, who quietly gave up hope of a Republican runoff over the last week, have been trying to remind people that Tillis is perfectly right-wing.
If Tillis is the best example you can find of an "establishment" candidate, then the conservative establishment is well and truly toast. These days, the tea party is triumphant everywhere. The only thing that's changed is its name. It's now called the Republican Party.