Earlier this week, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who is best known for his time spent trolling on Twitter, announced that he was going to mount a primary challenge against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). You were warned that something like this might happen.
On Tuesday, Stockman made his reasoning for this primary challenge clear: Cornyn, he said, is a "liberal." That probably came as a surprise to Cornyn, seeing as how it wasn't too long ago that he found himself in an eight-way tie for the title of "most conservative senator," per National Journal.
But, you know, listen to Stockman tell it:
I am honored to be called the most fearless conservative in Congress, and proud of my perfect 100% lifetime conservative rating. I am leading the fight for our values.
But John Cornyn wakes up every morning and works to make the Senate a more liberal place.
Liberal John Cornyn betrayed Ted Cruz by abandoning Republicans during the Obamacare filibuster.
Liberal John Cornyn betrayed Ted Cruz, and you, by voting to fund Obamacare.
But liberal John Cornyn is now doing what he always does, spending four years voting like a Democrat, then spending the two years before an election pretending to be Republican.
And if we let John Cornyn back in the Senate he will go right back to betraying Republicans, and with a vengeance.
Well, I’m sick and tired of being bayoneted in the back by someone in my own foxhole.
That's just a taste of Stockman's missive, in which he refers to Cornyn as a "liberal" 21 times, as if Cornyn were Elizabeth Warren or something.
Cornyn, as you might suspect, views his record as an Obamacare opponent quite differently. Stockman's take on the matter is simply the most cynical possible interpretation of Cornyn's votes during the 2013 government shutdown, in which the division between him and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) amounted to a simple disagreement over political tactics. But Stockman's hardly alone in his view -- FreedomWorks has dinged Cornyn for the same votes, and more. (The group also criticizes Cornyn for votes to raise the debt ceiling that date back to the Bush administration.)
Which isn't to say that outside conservative groups are particularly warm to Stockman's challenge. In fact, as Politico reported, most of those organizations are feeling somewhat "blindsided":
Not a single outside group said Stockman gave them a heads up on his plans to run for the Senate. The chairman of the Texas Republican Party said he, too, was blindsided. Ambushed by Stockman’s announcement, the powerful Club for Growth swiftly disavowed any interest in the primary. Several other tea party-friendly groups did not entirely rule out engaging in the election, but played down the possibility and acknowledged up front that Stockman’s campaign looks like a questionable proposition.
“While Congressman Stockman has a pro-economic growth record, so does Senator Cornyn,” Club for Growth president Chris Chocola said in a statement, noting that the Club decides its endorsements based on both the incumbent’s record and the challenger’s viability. “None of those factors weigh against Senator Cornyn, so we do not expect to be involved in the Texas race.”
Cornyn's more or less done the whole "dirt off my shoulder" routine since Stockman announced his challenge. He has called Stockman's against him "thin gruel" and quipped that the congressman wasn't "on my radar screen." And as for the inevitable comparisons to Ted Cruz -- who knocked off Texas establishment company man David Dewhurst in a protracted 2012 GOP primary -- Cornyn isn't feeling it: "[Cruz's] talents, the quality of race he ran and the timing were all different."
Indeed, that's true -- please see Dave Weigel breaking down all of the ways in which the logistics and timing in the 2012 primary broke in Cruz's favor.
The lingering question, of course, is how a challenge to Cornyn and a divisive primary battle might affect the GOP in 2014. Well, as John Sides notes over at the Monkey Cage, don't expect this primary to clear the way for a Democratic interloper in Texas. "After all," Sides writes, "Texas is Texas. Pretty much any Republican has a very good chance of winning the general election in 2014." However, Sides notes the research of Harvard political scientist Andrew Hall, which "raises some red flags worth considering."
The issue for the GOP isn’t so much the 2014 Texas Senate race. The issue is that, in general, the party would be better off — that is, it would control more seats and be better-positioned to steer policy — if it could discourage primary challengers in races where negative consequences are more likely. And Stockman’s example — particularly if successful — may only reinforce the desire of other conservatives in the party to mount similar challenges. When those challenges happen in states or districts that aren’t quite as red as Texas, the party may suffer, just as it has in Nevada, Delaware, Indiana, and Missouri.
And that's what much of the GOP establishment's efforts -- from the RNC's "rebranding" to Karl Rove's "Conservative Victory Project" -- have been designed to prevent. Instead, they get to wake up one day and see John Cornyn get accused of being a "liberal" twenty-one times. What a world.
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