GOP Moderates Often Sore Losers

An ongoing political saga in 2010 has been the number of times conservatives backed by the new Tea Party movement have upset candidates of the moderate Republican “establishment” in primaries.

In many cases, the defeated moderates embraced the triumphant conservative. This happened in Kentucky after Rand Paul won the Senate nomination and in Nevada, where Sharron Angle emerged triumphant in a crowded primary. Their “establishment” foes became their allies in the fall campaign.

But there are cases where good sportsmanship was not exhibited by the Republican losers.

In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced plans to use the $1.8 million she had remaining after losing the GOP primary to conservative Joe Miller as a write-in candidate in the fall race. Delaware’s Rep. Mike Castle, who never conceded defeat in the Senate primary to conservative Christine O’Donnell, now talks publicly about waging a write-in campaign against her and Democrat Chris Coons.

Faced with defeat at the hands of conservative Marco Rubio in Florida’s GOP Senate primary, Gov. Charlie Crist chose to switch and fight—becoming an independent candidate in the fall against Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek. Many Republicans who gave Crist money before his switch are going to court to get their money back from the man who is now outside the Republican Party.

Although there are probably cases of some conservatives who were bad sports after a primary, that list appears to be a relatively short one. When queried by HUMAN EVENTS, several proud “political junkies” could not come up with a noted example. They could, however, cite chapter and verse of cases where the not-so-conservative candidate lost a primary, took his or her ball, and went home.

“We have been facing this issue for more than a generation,” recalled a senior colleague. He was referring to 1964, when such noted non-conservatives as Michigan Gov. George Romney (Mitt’s father) and Rep. John Lindsay (R.-N.Y.) refused to appear with or even endorse Barry Goldwater after he became the Republican nominee for President. This is a strong contrast with Ronald Reagan in 1976, who endorsed, campaigned and cut a TV spot for Gerald Ford after losing the GOP nod for President to him at Kansas City.

Pat Buchanan challenged both George Bush for President in 1992 and Bob Dole in ’96, but promptly endorsed both after they became the GOP nominees.

In 1994, after Oliver North won the Republican nomination for U.S. senator from Virginia over former OMB head Jim Miller, Sen. John Warner (R.-Va.), who had backed Miller, recruited moderate GOPer Marshall Coleman to run as an independent against North and Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb (who won with a plurality). Two years later, Jim Miller was again a candidate for the Senate, but this time against Warner. After Warner won the primary, Miller endorsed him without hesitation (as he did North two years before).

In 1978, former Odessa Mayor Jim Reese, a Reagan delegate from Texas two years before, had the endorsement of his hero from California but still lost the Republican nomination for Congress to a more moderate opponent by the name of George W. Bush. Reese promptly backed Bush in the fall campaign against Democrat (and narrow winner) Kent Hance.

Conservative TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn was the runner-up in the 1986 GOP Senate primary in California to Rep. Ed Zschau, a moderate with whom he disagreed on social issues. Herschensohn endorsed Zscahu that evening and the moderate nominee (who lost a close race in the fall) remarked to HUMAN EVENTS years later how his former opponent was a “class act.”

When Herschensohn won the Senate primary in ’92, Zschau backed his opponent. But Zschau never forgot the good nature of Herschensohn and promptly signed on as a co-chairman of his finance committee in the fall campaign (like Zschau, Herschensohn lost narrowly).

That’s the way it should be: candidates fighting it out in a primary but then joining hands to fight the common enemy, the Democrats. Sadly, it isn’t always that way, as we are seeing quite clearly in 2010.