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Matt Bai Raises the Bar for G.O.P. Success; Election Already 'Mightily Out of Control'

Matt Bai is already predicting recriminations if the G.O.P. fails to win the House or Senate because of Tea Party activism, and a front-page teaser claimed: "Some critics are already asking Republican leaders how they managed to let a promising election season get so mightily out of control."

One of the Times' favorite themes is the ever-impending Republican civil war that will ruin the party's chances in whatever election that's coming up. Former chief political reporter Adam Nagourney is a past master, but he's now covering the West Coast. Luckily, Times contributor Matt Bai was there to fill the gap Thursday, explaining how the Republicans may blow a great opportunity through ruinous infighting in the primaries.

The assumption behind Bai's "Political Times" piece "For Republicans, Sorting Out Candidates Gets a Bit Messy" is that a crowded field of candidates in the Republican primaries is a bad thing.

Primaries are a wonderful thing - or at least that's the standard line among Republican leaders these days. "Primary campaigns can be healthy," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, "because they prepare the eventual nominee for how to aggressively campaign in November and provide the candidate with an opportunity to familiarize himself or herself with the electorate." What doesn't kill you makes you stronger! Let democracy flower!

Of course, Republicans have little choice but to see it this way, since nearly every nonincumbent Republican running for Congress this year has had to endure a primary, often with enough candidates to field a softball team. This disorderly sorting out of candidates, a process that in many cases features establishment types with good hair against ideologues in search of a Bastille to storm, will not matter much if Republicans can regain a majority in at least one chamber in November. If they do not, however, Republican leaders will have to answer the question some critics are already asking, which is how they managed to let a promising election season get so mightily out of control.

A front-page, above-the-fold teaser distorted Bai's already premature judgement by leaving out his qualifier: "Some critics are already asking Republican leaders how they managed to let a promising election season get so mightily out of control."

By last summer, though, public meetings on health care were erupting in fury and the phrase "Tea Party" was entering the political lexicon. Suddenly, more conservatives were jostling for a chance to challenge incumbent Democrats and their own party, and to promote ideological purity. Stunned Republicans in Washington were reluctant to rescind their tacit endorsements of what they saw as electable candidates, but the last thing they wanted was to square off against newly energized Tea Party types.

Instead, the party basically tried to slink off to the sidelines, which only emboldened more primary challengers. A lot of establishment candidates, meanwhile, ended up in the worst of all worlds, branded as instruments of the party but running without much practical help from Washington.


Focused on potential Republican problems, Bai didn't even mention the bloodbath in Tuesday's Arkansas Senate primary pitting supporters of center-left sitting Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Bill Halter, backed by the far-left and national unions.

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