Politico is reporting this week that Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is reconsidering his retirement and thinking about once again running for re-election. The reason? Moderate “Republicans” in Tennessee fret that the conservative likely to win the GOP nomination, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, could lose the general election.
I’m admittedly not familiar with the political dynamics in Tennessee. But I am familiar with this story, which we’ve witnessed many times before. It goes like this:
The big business-corporatist-establishment wing of the Republican Party panics that a genuine conservative might win the GOP primary. They then put forward their own favored candidate against the conservative, declaring that the conservative cannot win the general election — even if it’s a conservative state. If the establishment candidate is in trouble, they spend even more money helping that candidate, even if he or she is deeply flawed — consider Mississippi in 2014, where national Republicans spent heavily and recruited Democrats to vote in the Republican primary for 77-year-old Thad Cochran, who was clearly having an affair and whose declining mental faculties were a serious concern. Then, if the establishment’s favored candidate still loses the primary to a conservative, they declare the race unwinnable and withdraw their support from the conservative nominee — or even cross over to support the Democrat. (Consider Virginia in 2013, where Ken Cuccinelli came up two points shy of the governorship despite getting no support from the national party because he was “too conservative to win.”)
In all these cases, the “can’t win the general election” narrative takes on a groupthinking life of its own and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that’s the whole idea.
Now, it’s playing out in Tennessee. There’s no reason to believe Rep. Blackburn is unfit for office. She’s been a solid, articulate, hard-working conservative. She hasn’t made any Todd Akin-type disqualifying blunders. She’s a conservative woman, and all Republicans agree that women should take a more prominent role in the party.
So why are the business-establishment types pushing this “she can’t win” refrain to get Corker back in the race? It’s not because Corker has vocally opposed Trump — the business wing generally likes Trump (and pushed him over the more conservative Ted Cruz in the primary).
No, it’s because Blackburn is a social conservative, and unapologetically so. She’s a strongly pro-life leader, who spearheaded the House investigation into Planned Parenthood’s sale of baby body parts. She supports natural marriage and is a champion of religious freedom. And she’s a reliable conservative ally who’s not afraid to put principles over party. This is what they dislike about her.
The business-establishment is not against Republicans who are socially conservative — just those who are vocally so. They are terrified of the powerful LGBT lobby which, with the backing of humongous corporations and the media, is arguably more powerful than the Christian right is or ever was, and they want someone who is going to support their big-business agenda of cronyism and cheap labor through continued illegal immigration.
Rather than just admit all this — that Blackburn is too Republican for their liking — they’re declaring that she “will lose the general election.” And if Blackburn does win the primary — which she likely would even if Corker got back in — they won’t support her in the general election.
She’ll still likely win the general election, since Tennessee is one of the most reliably conservative states in the country, but it will now cost extra effort and money that would be better spent in other states.
You’ll notice that the Democrats never do this. They don’t fret about candidates being too left-wing — they nominate the farthest-left candidate they think they can get away with, then use all their muscle and might to support him or her. Meanwhile, terrified Republicans go into a panic at the thought of a negative Politico or Washington Post story or one bad poll and throw up the white flag, abandoning candidates who can actually win.
If Republicans do manage to get swept out of Congress after this year’s midterms, they’ll have only themselves to blame.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore