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The (Republican) Establishment strikes back

Sep 14, 2015

“The Establishment Strikes Back” could be a very apropos title for the latest episode of the Todd Courser-Cindy Gamrat saga.

That’s the one where Republican leaders (with some help from Democrats) succeeded in booting the prominent and troublesome Tea Partiers from the state Legislature.

Act I

Courser and Gamrat were forced out of the state House over a sex-and-cover-up scandal, but their ouster was every bit as much about their combativeness and open hostility to the House Republican caucus.

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Courser and Gamrat were the most prominent and, eventually, infamous, Tea Party figures in Michigan politics. And their professional lives certainly matched the mission of the Tea Party, which has been a disruptive influence that’s roiled state Republican conventions and primaries.

That’s frustrated GOP leaders who need to build center-right coalitions to govern, while the Tea Party simply wants to pull the party further to the right. And Courser and Gamrat were certainly disrupters.

Act II

So, when Courser’s scheme to send a bizarre e-mail that was supposed to cloud revelations of their extra-marital affair in a swirl of outlandish rumors was discovered, the House GOP leaders had their grounds to make the troublesome pair go away. And they used it, piling charge upon charge of misconduct that would serve as the official roster of misdeeds to justify giving the pair the boot.

And it may not be over. A criminal investigation is underway, and some Republicans, at least, would like to see Courser lose his law license. In fact, Courser and Gamrat succeeded in doing what state GOP leaders have been unable to do in recent years: unite the warring Republican factions, even if that cause was getting rid of Courser and Gamrat.

Act III

So, the establishment wing of the GOP wanted Courser and Gamrat gone. And the Tea Party wanted them gone for shaming their movement. Although Cindy Gamrat says don’t blame the Tea Party.

“I’ve made mistakes and I apologize for those mistakes, and I don’t think those mistakes reflect on the Tea Party,” she said the day after the vote to expel her. “Those mistakes reflect on me.”

But, make no mistake, there are those in the Republican Party who will use this episode to diminish the influence of the Tea Party in the GOP.

With the possible exception of Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) in the state Senate, there really aren’t any Tea Partiers left in the Legislature who tap into the movement’s angst and anger over “big government” and stick their thumbs in the eye of the establishment.

Look at Representatives Gary Glenn (R-Midland), Tristan Cole (R-Mancelona), and Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), they all play very nice with the House Republican leadership. In fact, each is either a committee chair or a vice chair in line to become a committee chair in a future session.

So, GOP leaders may have succeeded in turning down the volume on the Tea Party. But the reality is anyone hoping the Tea Party will just go away is bound to be disappointed.  

Epilogue

Certainly, there are plenty of examples of populist movements like the Ross Perot and John Anderson independents that evaporated after their principals exited the political stage. But the Tea Party isn’t built around personalities.

Also, the Tea Party has really been part of the Republican coalition since the days of Barry Goldwater, long before it was ever called the Tea Party. And that element has surged and ebbed in influence and volume ever since.  

So that means the GOP establishment can’t seal its victory until it shows it can turn out voters in primaries and get delegates to conventions in greater numbers than the passionate, vocal, and disruptive Tea Partiers.

We’ll see how that works in just a few months when Michigan hosts its March 8th presidential primary.