What might be the best wrap-up of yesterday’s primary results was published before the returns came in. As media outlets keep dropping over-simplistic terms like “tea party support” and “outsiders vs. insiders” to explain what happened, the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney boils the divide in Republican politics down as “the Tea Party Wing against the K Street Wing” – a divide which is not simply ideological or experiential:
The main distinction… might have less to do with policy platforms and more to do with a politician’s attitude toward the Washington nexus of power and money. Nevada’s Sharron Angle is anti-bailout and anti-subsidy. [Kentucky candidate Rand] Paul could try to shrink defense spending and ethanol subsidies. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio isn’t a game player like [former Senator Bob] Dole’s buddy Crist is.
This morning, we hear that Lisa Murkowski is in trouble against “tea partier” Joe Miller, that John McCain bested an insurgent challenge from a more conservative candidate, and that established Republican Bill McCollum lost out to Rick Scott.
So if you’re scoring at home, “the establishment” won some and lost some, with Alaska up in the air – at least, according to most of the talking heads you see.
But can you call McCain an establishment Republican candidate? McCain had bucked national party leadership in his own way for decades, often lashing out at the K Street types Carney mentions above. As Matt Lewis noted – again, before polls closed yesterday – he fought a serious race against an opponent with more clear ties to K Street establishmentism. Last week, the New York Times saw fit to print that Alaska’s rugged individualism was either inconsistent or an outright sham because of its dependence on federal money; regardless of how the final tallies go for the scion of the Murkowski family goes, her ability to keep winning earmarks did not lead to an easy victory lap. And Bill McCollum was part of a Republican establishment in Florida rocked with a spending scandal earlier this year.
And of course, there’s the big caveat that each race has its own local interpretations of who counts as “the establishment” and who really is an “outsider.” All the more reason to look at the results through Carney’s prism rather than the crystal ball which other analysts are trying to use.