Why Is the Tea Party Focusing on an Oklahoma Senate Primary?
Posted on May 8, 2014Originally Published in the WSJ
The Ted Cruz-Mike Lee-Sarah Palin show rode into Oklahoma last week, looking to pick a fight with the Republican “establishment.” Mrs. Palin said she was on a RINO-hunt, presumably because she wants Rep. James Lankford to lose his primary.
Mr. Lankford, one of the House’s most conservative members, was a tea party standout when he came into office in 2010. He had risen quickly in the House leadership and is known as a gifted communicator.
Mrs. Palin’s choice, Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon is a former staffer to Rep. Tom Cole–an establishment favorite and close friend of House Speaker John Boehner–with deep ties to GOPAC and to the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Lankford is getting hammered by the Palin-Cruz-Lee crowd because he agreed with retiring Sen. Tom Coburn that the Cruz strategy of shutting down the government last fall was not very wise. Mr. Shannon, meanwhile, has praised Sen. Coburn’s commitment to fighting the debt.
It’s all very confusing. There is not a dime’s worth of difference between the candidates’ policy pronouncements; both have ties to the establishment and to the tea party, and neither has publicly committed to backing Mitch McConnell for Senate Republican leader (though both probably would after the primary).
So why are these tea party heroes getting involved in a Senate primary race between two equally matched candidates who would most likely vote the same way?
One theory: These days, the tea party movement is not about ideology. It’s about power and money, mostly money. By endorsing Mr. Shannon, Cruz & Co. hope to build enough chits to get him to join their merry band of mischief makers.