Republicans and the Tea Party

The primary election season is providing some respite for the Republican establishment, whose candidates have beaten their Tea Party challengers. The victories of party rebels a few years ago were detrimental in electoral terms for the GOP at the time.

The defeats of Tea Party candidates for U.S. Congress in North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and Texas are very significant. In the past, the success of conservative populists brought to power inexperienced candidates, who with their mistakes—and extremism—facilitated Democratic victories.

Now the outlook is different. There is a financial effort among more traditional Republican sectors, which are leery of the Tea Party’s intransigent populism—the one that prefers extreme ideological purism over the moderate conservative pragmatism that can win elections.

At the same time, Republicans have come closer to Tea Party ideals, as we have seen in the House of Representatives. There is no shortage of examples, from the government shutdown to numerous votes against Obamacare, and from ideological inflexibility on the budget to closed-mindedness when it comes to immigration reform.

This strategy has brought the Republican establishment closer to its more conservative counterparts, but it will distance moderate voters during a general election. A case in point is the Latino vote, which is very often a swing vote in its pragmatism. A majority of these voters have rejected the most radical positions in Congress, the ones that are extremely popular among Tea Party supporters.

We will see in November whether the Tea Party’s shift strategy will help Republicans take over the Senate. It depends on who goes to the polls on that day. What is certain is that in the long- and medium-term, the Republican effort of accepting the most extremist positions in order to respond to the populist base will hurt the party on a national level. This won’t be good for Republicans or for Latinos, whose political options will be limited to one party.