Last Thursday a bill passed the Michigan House with support from nearly every Democratic member but opposition from most Republicans. It appropriated funds for a joint state-federal health insurance exchange in Michigan that Gov. Snyder says would be an Expedia-like website for health insurance.
The bulk of the GOP “yes” votes were term-limited lawmakers, apparently because Republicans were terrified of primary challenges from Tea Party activists who dread the tyranny of this Expedia-like website dominating the health insurance market.
But why? It’s baffling that any Lansing politicians would actually fear electoral consequences from an astroturf movement that has proven itself feckless.
There was plenty of noise made about Bobby Schostak nearly losing his reelection campaign for Republican chair. Of course, few Michigan voters care about who chairs Michigan’s political parties. But these are the kind of fights that best suit tea partiers.
Except . . . they failed. Not only did conservatives fail to convince barely 800 delegates at the Michigan Republican Party convention of the righteousness of their cause, they’ve been a failure since breaking onto the Michigan electoral scene.
First, the obvious: in 2010 Rick Snyder won a five-way Republican gubernatorial primary that featured tea party favorites Mike Cox and Mike Bouchard.
Then in 2012, when at least six Republicans ran for Senate, it was the establishment choice Pete Hoekstra who collected over 50 percent of Republican primary votes – eventually winning by more than 150,000 total votes, a remarkable margin in a supposedly competitive primary. This was despite millions of dollars in negative advertising launched by Clark Durant and his allies.
But even in the most winnable races in 2010, conservatives came up short.
There were 672 total primary candidates in state House and Senate races that year, and 37 of them (all Republicans) were endorsed either by the Independence Caucus or the Republican Liberty Caucus.
Of the 20 Tea Party House candidates that weren’t already incumbents, none of them made it to Lansing. The tea party picks lost to establishment candidates like Andrea LaFontaine, Rick Outman, Deb Shaughnessy, and Paul Muxlow.
The Senate was more of a mixed bag, but equally dismal. The IC and RLC endorsed opposing candidates in the 7th and 30th Senate district primaries, with IC-backed Patrick Colbeck winning in the 7th and RLC-backed Arlan Meekhof winning in the 30th. In the 29th, IC-backed Dave Hildenbrand won, but he was already an incumbent state rep with strong conservative support from his old district.
In 2012 it was much the same story. Tea Party favorite Dan Grimshaw managed to knock off incumbent Rep. Kurt Damrow in a thumb district, but lost the general election in a district with a 56 percent Republican lean by nearly 6,000 votes.
What electoral victories can the tea party point to in Michigan?
If Lansing Republicans are ever going to get serious about governing, they should drop their fear of conservatives and start leading. Speaker Jase Bolger likes to say that House Republicans care about good policy, not playing politics. If they want Michiganians to believe this, they should start acting like it.