Establishment 25, Tea Party 22

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 13 2011 3:07 PM

Establishment 25, Tea Party 22

Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has been defeated, 25 to 22, in an internal vote of GOP senators for the fourth-ranking job in leadership. Roy Blunt of Missouri has been elected conference vice chairman.

Why should you care? The 3-vote victory for Blunt was a pure win for the Republican old guard against the Tea Party. Johnson, a businessman who had never run for anything until 2010, announced his bid and promptly won the backing of Tea Party groups. Yes, for a conference vice chairman race. File this under "ways the Tea Party is different than Occupy Wall Street." FreedomWorks built an online call center for supporters to pressure Republicans into voting for Johnson. The group labeled Johnson's opponent an "old-guard establishment senator," quoted Erick Erickson of RedState as proof that this was the most important fight for the conservative movement in America right now."

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What was so wrong with Blunt? First elected to the House in 1998, he rocketed through the ranks, became whip when Tom DeLay became majority leader, and became acting majority leader until John Boehner defeated him later in 2006. He presided over the waning of the GOP that year and, to a lesser extent, in 2008. He voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. He was, and is, everything conservatives thought they beat in 2010. But for two more votes they would have beaten him again. Alas. All they got, for now, was a list of senators -- including Marco Rubio -- who proudly backed Johnson and proved their faithfulness.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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