Were the results of Tuesday’s Republican primaries which have been interpreted as The Republican Establishment Strikes back a victory for and vindication of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s grand of a-bit-more-to-the-center Republicanism? According to a Buzzfeed report, Team Romney thinks so:
For the small orbit of friends, loyalists, and former aides that still revolves around Mitt Romney, Tuesday’s GOP primaries were cause for celebration — and a little bit of gloating.
The elections featured a trio of Romney-endorsed Republicans beating back challenges from the tea party by filling their coffers with establishment cash, and appealing to electoral pragmatism. In Idaho, Rep. Mike Simpson defeated his primary opponent with $4 million raised by allies like the United States Chamber of Commerce. In Pennsylvania, incumbent Rep. Bill Shuster triumphed over a challenge from the right. And in Oregon, Monica Wehby, a pro-abortion rights neurosurgeon who many Republicans have touted as a rising star, emerged victorious despite a last-minute character assault led by Democrats.
To fans of the former presidential nominee, Tuesday was evidence that Romney Republicanism is alive and well in today’s GOP.
“I think Republicans are sick of losing,” said Robert O’Brien, a Romney family friend who served as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. “I think the Romney brand has had a real resurgence after the campaign, and a lot of Republicans realized, hey this guy was right about a lot of things, and they realize his endorsement carries significant weight.”
Similarly, Ryan Williams, a former Romney campaign spokesman, boasted, “Tonight was a good night for Gov. Romney and his endorsed candidates.”
He went on to add, “For too long our party has been without a powerful voice who has been able to help the most electable conservative candidates build support and raise the resources needed to navigate competitive primary contests. Governor Romney has filled that void.”
Romney does carry some weight with a segment of the Republican Party, including some who believe some of his warnings about a second term for Barack Obama were correct, even if widely dismissed.
Forgive them if their rhetoric seems a bit lofty. Three primary wins doesn’t add up to a revolution, of course, and it is unclear what effect, if any, Romney’s endorsements had on the candidates’ victories.
But for the aides and allies who stood by Romney in 2012 — during which he was relentlessly attacked by right-wing primary opponents for his moderate record, and then forced to carry off his party’s baggage when he lost in November — it is vindicating to see midterm candidates win while touting his endorsement, and adopting, to various extents, his trademark strain of corporate, practical conservatism.
Many factors likely contributed to the voting results: the fact that incumbent GOPers this time were not going to pooh-pooh or disdainfully ignore challenges from their right, a belief on the part of non-Tea Party Republicans that some of the far right candidates were making their party look more like a Twilight Zone episode than a potential The West Wing episode, the willingness of some GOPers to swallow their ideological pride and vote for Republicans than feel might actually win, a desire to win back the Senate and control Congress, and big bucks available this time to challenge the big money pumped into the candidacies of Tea Party backed candidates.
And, yes, the vote was a vindication, of sorts, for the kind of Romneyism displayed by the former Governor after the election: more to the right than when he was governor but more to the center when he was a candidate. Closer to the Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Karl Rove school than Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.
And it means a tougher job for Democrats in the fall as an array of polls show Democrats and Barack Obama are facing more and more disappointed or angry voters.
The Republican Party is now poised — but will it be a victory or yet another grab-defeat-from-the-jaws-of victory defeat?
UPDATE: Ed Kilgore makes a strong argument that Romney’s aides are giving credit where credit is not due:
I’ve seen a lot of post-election spin in my day, but this may take the cake…
Never mind that all three of these candidates were heavily favored. Or that one of them, Wehby, won not because of any help from Mitt but because revelations of her serial stalking of former menfolk in her life (illustrated by police reports and 9-1-1 records, not by any “character assult led by Democrats) came out too late to affect the result in a all-mail-ballot state. Or that Wehby enters the general election against Jeff Merkley perhaps mortally wounded. Or that Romney had nothing to do with all the other races last night, most of which got more attention than the three he was involved in.
No, May 20 was a Mittiganza.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.