For months, the GOP establishment has tried to walk a thin line between keeping tea party supporters in the fold while not scaring off mainstream voters by closely embracing the radical views of the tea party movement.
For example, earlier this year, RNC Chairman Michael Steele attempted to appease tea partiers by declaring that the “Republican Party will not meddle in local races — especially GOP primaries featuring candidates backed by Tea Party activists.” Steele even went so far as to state that “If I weren’t doing this job, I’d be out there with the tea parties.” However, according to a ThinkProgress report, the Republican Party has already spent over $2 million against tea party challenges to the GOP establishment.
Now, after Republican establishment choices were defeated in Senate races from Utah to Kentucky to Nevada, the old guard of the GOP is sounding the alarms.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) told the Washington Post that he feared what tea party candidates could do to the Senate:
“We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” Lott said in an interview. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.”
It’s no surprise that Lott is worried about more DeMint-style Republicans entering the Senate. DeMint’s hard-right views — including comparing immigration to the Gulf oil leak and protecting secret holds in the Senate — place him well outside the mainstream and earned him the title of “Most Conservative Senator” in 2006 and 2007. The GOP establishment is also worried about an insurrection from tea party candidates who were backed by DeMint but opposed by the NRSC. With a potential new crop of loyal tea party senators, Jim DeMint has even hinted that he’ll seek a leadership post.
However, Lott, who fears a breakdown of the Republican establishment’s power in the Senate, says he’s not expecting tea party candidates to do well in November. Said Lott, “I still have faith in the visceral judgment of the American people.”