Demise of the Tea Party Greatly Exaggerated

by Michael New

On Tuesday, many conservatives were disappointed to see lawyer and philanthropist Clark Durant fall short in his bid to win the Republican nomination for Michigan’s U.S. Senate seat. The results of Tuesday’s primary election indicate that Durant was defeated by former U.S. congressman Pete Hoesktra by a 54 to 34 margin. However, tea-party conservatives should not despair. The Tea Party is alive and well. Durant’s loss was due to about three circumstantial factors that to some extent were out of the control of tea-party activists

1) Representative Hoekstra had solid conservative credentials. Representative Hoekstra represented a congressional district near Grand Rapids, Mich., from 1993 to 2011. His lifetime American Conservative Union score is a respectable 91. Hoekstra could boast of a number of endorsements from prominent conservatives. These included Representative Michele Bachmann, former senator Rick Santorum, and Senator Pat Toomey. Overall, unlike some of the other U.S. Senate primaries this election cycle, this was not a clear case of an insurgent conservative taking on an establishment moderate.

2) The timing of the Michigan Primary was bad. The fact that Michigan’s primary fell just one week after the Texas primary likely hurt Durant’s candidacy. It seemed that a lot of conservative activists both inside the beltway and across the country invested a considerable amount of time, money, and energy in Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign. To a certain extent, this probably reduced the amount of resources available for Durant. Now, within the past week, there was a flurry of positive coverage about Durant’s campaign in a variety of conservative media outlets. However, it may have been too little too late. Overall, had the primary been a week or two later, the race might have been closer.

3) Durant was hit with some unfair media coverage. In the month before the primary a number of media outlets in the Detroit Metro area ran stories about the high salary that Durant received as CEO of Cornerstone schools. Many gleefully pointed out that Durant’s salary was higher than some school superintendents and university presidents who are responsible for more students. Durant’s defense was certainly reasonable. His salary is set by an independent board. Furthermore, Durant’s job is different from some of these other administrators because he is responsible for raising enough money to keep tuition at Cornerstone schools affordable. Still these nuances may have been lost on some people and the negative stories may have blunted Durant’s momentum to a certain extent.

At any rate, Pete Hoekstra will be the Republican nominee against incumbent Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow. With Stabenow’s approval ratings in the 40s and Mitt Romney polling well in Michigan this seat could well be in play in November. Conservatives and tea partiers should rally behind Hoekstra’s candidacy.

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