On Primaries

Over at SavetheGOP.com, an excellent site, Mark Harris asked whether I think primary challenges are ever justifiable.  It is an important question, and I thought it worthwhile to post my reply here as well.
 In 2004, I worked for a pro-life organization that was heavily involved in the Pennsylvania primary.  Though a 501(c)3 organization, I can assure you that our work had the effect of opposition to the President.  I’m proud of that work and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Those were different times.  I was highly optimistic that we would take back the Senate.  There were five open Democrat seats in the South, plus Tom Daschle with a bull’s eye on his back.  I was confident that Toomey would have a fair chance, and that, even if he lost, we would have 52-54 seats and a different Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Specter’s history suggested to me that, with a Republican majority, a Democrat in his seat would be less able to do harm than he would.
Now, though, we are a minority party.  To be sure, that is thanks in no small part to the abandonment of a conservative agenda.  Having said that, we can count on most of the Senators on that list on a slew of other issues.  With the possible exceptions of just a few, Collins, Snowe, Specter and Warner, they have consistently voted with us on conservative judicial nominees, the  constitutional option, tax cuts, etc.  Paring it down to just two issues, there are only nineteen Republican Senators who voted against cloture today, voted against the expansion of embryonic stem-cell research.  Among those 19, Senator Grassley recently proposed a tax increase, Senator Dole actively supported Lincoln Chafee against Steve Laffey, and Senator Cornyn supported the nomination of Harriet Miers.  Two others are Senators Isakson and Corker, for whom I know at least a few of the bloggers on this site have a strong distaste.  That leaves us with fourteen.  Fourteen Senators, unless they plan on hijacking the Senate, get us nowhere.
I would like to see a conservative Senate as much as anyone.  I am not, however, willing to sacrifice the chance for a conservative Supreme Court, under-funding of troops, tax increases, and even more new government programs to get there.  I think it is important to find a balance and consider the body of votes that members of Congress cast, along with the overall political landscape, when thinking about primary challenges.  If challengers arose to a Senator like Collins, whom I could easily see pull a Jim Jeffords, or Graham, who would surely be replaced by a Republican, I would have to give some serious thought to supporting those challengers.  As angry as I will be if the cloture vote succeeds on Thursday, I just don’t think that it is practical to spend valuable time and money working to defeat Republicans who vote with us 70-80% of the time and could well be replaced with Democrats instead of focusing on defeating those who barely vote with us at all.

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