Alabama politics is always interesting.
Although it upsets many conservatives, it is accurate to describe the current situation in the Republican Party as a civil war. The latest battle was fought yesterday between the Chamber of Commerce crowd and the tea party in the First Congressional District of Alabama, a deep red district in a deep red state — it’s centered on Mobile. The primary (yes, primary) pitted former state senator Bradley Byrne on behalf of business against Dean Young, a tea party real estate developer. In the end, Byrne won 52.5% to 47.5%, and he will likely trounce the Democrat in the general election next month.
The situation in the GOP is historically significant. This is more than just a bit of intertribal squabbling. The Reagan coalition of social conservatives, business interests, small-government types and militarists is coming apart. This is perfectly natural; the FDR coalition collapsed in the 1960s, and the Whig coalition died in the 1850s. A political grouping either succeeds and becomes irrelevant, or the situation changes and it either adapts or dies.
In truth, the social conservatives have delivered votes to the Republican Party since the 1980 general election (perhaps even earlier in some states), but Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, there’s no prayer in schools and morals have gone to heck (or so they claim). Meanwhile, business gets more welfare than anyone, and the military-industrial complex has done exceedingly well. The small-government conservatives, well, not so much, as the saying goes.
Now, Young is the kind of tea party yahoo who makes the establishment GOP nervous. Politico reports this morning, “The GOP establishment took a stand against Young, who applauded the shutdown, vowed that he wouldn’t support John Boehner as speaker and said he believed President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.” He planned on making waves, advising voters that if he won they should get “a big ole thing of popcorn and a Big Super Gulp and lean back and turn on C-SPAN” to watch the pyrotechnics.
Business groups took notice, and they started helping Byrne. The US Chamber of Commerce gave him $200,000 and Ending Spending, a PAC formed by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, bought him $75,000 in TV airtime. In a market like Mobile, that’s buckets of money. The final tally had Byrne with twice the money Young had.
The business community has a conservative but pragmatic political outlook. If it’s bad for the bottom line; it doesn’t matter how ideologically pure an idea or policy is. The tea party doesn’t agree. And so, you are going to see more of these types of fights. Until recently, it was the tea party putting up challengers to established Republican politicians. Business is starting to fight back as we saw in Alabama’s First CD.
There are others. For example, up in Michigan, tea party congressmen Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio are facing challenges from pro-business moderates. The Chamber of Commerce and its fellows have learned a valuable lesson after the tea party lost some easily winnable seats of late — winning the general election actually matters. Ideological considerations aside, if you don’t win, your policies and ideas don’t get enacted. And if the Democrats face unelectable ideological purists rather than pragmatic cloth-coat Republican candidates, the Democrats will win.
So, forget Virginia and Chris Christie’s win in New Jersey. New York’s city races were interesting, but hardly of national significance. The big race was in Alabama’s First CD, and the Chamber of Commerce crowd won.