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Today’s Counterfactual: Tea Party Incumbent Loses to Establishment Republican in House Primary

Businessman_David_Trott_beats_US_Rep__Bentivolio_in_Michigan_s_11th_House_District_GOP_primary_-_WXYZ_com

One of the ongoing discussions is the degree to which Tea Party challenges have actually led to the defeats of “Establishment” Republicans in recent primaries. Despite the recent high profile primary defeat of Eric Cantor by a challenger from his right, Vox contributor Andrew Prokop recently argued that statistics disprove the actual existence of such a trend. Now, we have another data point in the discussion: last night Establishment candidate David Trott beat the Tea Party Express endorsed incumbent Kerry Bentivolio in the Republican House primary for for Michigan’s 11th District.*

Michigan Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, a Tea Party-backed candidate, was upset by a wide margin Tuesday in a GOP primary by attorney-businessman David Trott in the race for the state’s 11th House District seat.

Trott received almost twice as many votes as Bentivolio out of the over 58,000 ballots cast.

Despite Congress’ abysmal approval ratings, only three incumbents have lost this election cycle — Bentivolio and fellow Republican Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Ralph Hall of Texas. Bentivolio, a former teacher and reindeer farmer, was elected in 2012 after a Republican incumbent was knocked off the ballot due to fraudulent petition signatures.

[Source: Fox News]

What this data tells us is very much up to personal interpretation. Bentivolio’s initial win in 2012 was “non-standard” to say the least. Bentivolio became the Republican candidate for 11th’s district’s seat after OTB favorite Thad McCotter failed to secure (or forge) enough signatures to qualify for the 2012 ballot.

Likewise, it’s difficult to say that, beyond the endorsement of the Tea Party Express, Bentivolio was/is a Tea Party member. For example, he isn’t a member of the Tea Party Caucus. That said, Bentivolio was one of 114 Republicans who voted against ending the 2013 Government shutdown.

However, while one can be a debate of how “Tea Party” Mr. Bentivolio is, it’s clear that his challenger David Trott has the support of the Michigan Republican Establishment and Establishment organizations like the Chamber of Congress.

There are still more primaries to be held this year and only time will tell how many more upsets there will be in the approximately 230 primaries involving House Republican incumbents. But, for those keeping count, of the three Republican Incumbent defeats this year, two can be chalked up to successful challenges from the right (Cantor and Ralph Hall in Texas). This one, however, goes to a challenger from the center.

(h/t to OTB commenter Trumwell for pointing me to the Vox article)

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About Matt Bernius
Matthew is a PhD student in Cultural Anthropology at Cornell University, researching the intersection of technology and culture. Prior to Cornell, he earned a Masters in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and was a visiting professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Matt started his career at Eastman Kodak, spending eight years in a variety of web development, community and content strategy roles. In his spare time (off OTB) Matt slogs (slow-blogs) on the future of reading/media, studies martial arts and self defense, and volunteers, along with his wife, at the Rochester Animal Shelter. Follow him on twitter @mattbernius.

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Again…you cannot deny the influence the Tea Baggers are having on the Republican Party.
    Immigration…and voting to do nothing about the issue they have been fulminating over all summer…is only the most recent example.
    Lose some battles…win the war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. CSK says:

    @C. Clavin:

    They’re losing a lot of battles. Their only “triumph” yesterday was Justin Amash in Michigan. Milton Wolf in Kansas was trounced by Pat Roberts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. C. Clavin says:

    @CSK:
    Yeah, sure. No question.
    But if you are the Koch Brothers…who fund and organize the Tea baggers…why do you care? Your political goals are being achieved. In spades. That’s all that matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. stonetools says:

    If an establishment Republican with Tea Party beliefs beats an explicitly Tea Party candidate, has the Tea Party really lost?

    Most of the “establishment” candidates who have won are Tea Party candidates with more careful diction and better suits and connections, IMO. They certainly aren’t Eisenhower, Rockefeller, or even GHWB Republicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  5. CSK says:

    @stonetools:

    Then what point, I wonder, does the Tea Party see in challenging them? I think you and Clavin are underestimating the visceral hatred the Tea Partiers have for anyone whom they perceive as establishment turncoats, which is practically everyone other than Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. Look at Jack Kingston in Georgia. The TP was threatening to support Michelle Nunn if Kingston won the run-off with Perdue on the grounds that Kingston was a socialist lackey, despite the fact that the guy had a nearly 96% rating from the American Conservative Union.

    If the Tea Party is anything now, it’s a sort of nihilist/anarchist movement with Christian Dominionist underpinnings. They should change their name to the Kamikaze Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. Tillman says:

    I wonder if Bentivolio’s surprising resemblance to Dick Cheney had anything to do with the loss.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Moosebreath says:

    @stonetools:

    “If an establishment Republican with Tea Party beliefs beats an explicitly Tea Party candidate, has the Tea Party really lost?”

    Or even if an establishment Republican who is so afraid of the Tea Party that he votes in a manner indistinguishable from how a Tea Party candidate would vote beats an explicitly Tea Party candidate, has the Tea Party really lost? The beliefs are less important that how they act on them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  8. Tillman says:

    @CSK: I’m not positive on how far Christian dominionism per se plays in the Tea Party. I think it’s more cultural than religious, and the association of Christianity with the perceived culture to be defended.

    That said, the defeats of Tea Party challengers don’t mean much in the scheme of things because one of the reasons given for establishment GOP legislators going along with Tea Party members’ crazy strategies is the fear of being primaried from the right. They are being primaried from the right. They are winning, sure, but they’re still expending resources in fights they wouldn’t have needed to wage a decade ago.

    If anything, we’re just seeing how far the Tea Party can drag the Republicans to the right. In that vein of thinking, they’ve been quite successful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. Another Mike says:

    My understanding is that Bentivolio turned on the Tea Party almost immediately, so now we read stuff like this from Karl Denninger at market-ticket.org.
    http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?post=229269

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Eric Florack says:

    One point I dont see being discussed is what the $ were for each of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. CSK says:

    @Tillman:

    Point taken. But will the move to the right last once the incumbent is returned to office, or the candidate has been elected to office? That’s another Tea Party complaint–that they’ve been betrayed by people like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Kelly Ayotte, etc.

    I may have overstated the case for Christian Dominionism as a factor in the Tea Party ethos, but there’s no doubt in my mind that whatever the Tea Party was intended to be originally, it quickly became a socio-religious-cultural movement disguised as a fiscal movement. The disguise has fallen away, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. Eric Florack says:

    @C. Clavin: Im not sure on this one. Example…
    The number of people vehemently against amnesty exeeds the number of tea party by an order of scale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @Eric Florack:
    Amnesty is just a re-meat word used to rile up dupes like you.
    It doesn’t actually exist in any legislative form…since Reagan anyway.
    But you keep gnawing on that bone you bigot, you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  14. Matt Bernius says:

    @Another Mike:

    My understanding is that Bentivolio turned on the Tea Party almost immediately, so now we read stuff like this from Karl Denninger at market-ticket.org.

    Mr Denninger’s screed about Mr Bentivolio doesn’t really tell us very much about the latter’s record.

    I will note that looking at Heritage Action’s Conservative, Mr Bentivolio gets a score of 82%, well above the Republican average of 62%.
    http://www.heritageactionscorecard.com/members/member/B001280

    That score makes him the second most conservative representative of Michigan, behind Mr Amash (at 87%) and tied for being the 30th most conservative member of the House.

    Mr Trott will most likely *not* be as conservative in his voting as Bentivolio.

    So if Bentivolio “turned on the tea party” it would be interesting to understand how exactly he did so. And further, I’d love to understand what the Tea Party thinks will be gained by electing a most likely more centrist Republican in a district that reliably elects Republicans for the last few decades.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    The number of people vehemently against amnesty exeeds the number of tea party by an order of scale.

    I’m sure you can find some polling from 2006 to support this claim :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. rudderpedals says:

    Nate Silver’s counter-counter-factual just posted
    http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/republicans-have-more-reason-than-ever-to-worry-about-primary-challenges/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. stonetools says:

    @rudderpedals:

    Nice piece from Silver. Especially counterfactual is this quote:

    So, though this year’s primary season is almost over — on Thursday, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander will be the last Republican incumbent to face a competitive primary — there’s no evidence the threat from primary challenges has been reduced going forward. It may even still be increasing

    If that’s true, Republicans really are in trouble because the rightward ratchet will continue. And maybe the country will be in trouble too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. superdestroyer says:

    What no one is noticing is not a single Democratic Party incumbent lost in the primary in 2014. That means for all of the bluster from the Occupy Wall Street types, none of the activist seem willing to try to change policy or governance at the ballot box. Image what politics will be like when the Democratic Primary in the real election in the U.S. after the collapse of the Republican Party and no automatic Democratic Party voter will be able to bring themselves to vote for anyone other than the incumbent or the handpicked establishment candidate during the primary. I wonder if all of the people studying elections and campaigns in college realize that they are wasting their time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  19. Another Mike says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    And further, I’d love to understand what the Tea Party thinks will be gained by electing a most likely more centrist Republican in a district that reliably elects Republicans for the last few decades.

    I do not know what the thinking is on this. There must have been some promise that he broke, and thus lost Tea Party support. It takes more than a high conservative rating to please the Tea Party.

    Denninger seems to be an extremely bright person, but he is also a fanatic in my book. He doesn’t broke being questioned. I do not have posting privileges on his site.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. rudderpedals says:

    @superdestroyer:

    What no one is noticing is not a single Democratic Party incumbent lost in the primary in 2014. That means for all of the bluster from the Occupy Wall Street types, none of the activist seem willing to try to change policy or governance at the ballot box.

    We’re willing and active but it’s going to take more time and effort because the monied intere$t$ are very well-entrenched and understandably protective. Please, come over from the dark side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  21. Grewgills says:

    @superdestroyer:

    What no one is noticing is not a single Democratic Party incumbent lost in the primary in 2014. That means for all of the bluster from the Occupy Wall Street types, none of the activist seem willing to try to change policy or governance at the ballot box.

    What that means is the the Left fringe of the Democratic party has very little power, in sharp contrast to the Right fringe of the Republican party.
    The rest of your one party blah blah blah isn’t worth responding to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  22. Eric Florack says:

    @C. Clavin: denial?
    Come on, Clavin. You know better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  23. KanasMom says:

    @CSK: @CSK: Wolf wasn’t trounced. He lost by 6 points and he’s a jackass. Roberts will have some trouble in this race, he is severely wounded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0