Business groups to counter tea party in primaries
The recent fiscal crisis has opened a major rift between the tea party wing of the Republican Party and business groups that traditionally have backed Republicans, with many business leaders now vowing to get involved more in GOP primaries to try to counter insurgent candidates.
Tea party leaders are defiant, saying they will not change course despite criticism from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and other top business groups. But business leaders argue that the scorched-earth tactics used by tea party Republicans during the 16-day shutdown and debate over raising the federal government’s borrowing limit marked the fourth time since the GOP took control of the House in 2011 that tea party adherents precipitated a governmental crisis that zapped consumer and business confidence, raised uncertainty and exerted a major drag on economic growth.
Besides encouraging more businessfriendly candidates in primary contests, business groups are rallying behind establishment Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who is being targeted by tea party activists for brokering a deal to temporarily raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government, while launching a negotiation with Democrats over budget cuts and proposed tax and entitlement reforms.
Business executives agree with many limit and end to the shutdown to prevent another major economic slowdown at a time when many businesses hoped the economy would be picking up speed.
That pitted the business groups against activist conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which urged Republicans to stand firm with the tea party.
Caught in the middle was Koch Industries, the financier of many tea party-affiliated groups. Koch issued a letter distancing itself from the shutdown strategy.
Taking on the ideological conservatives could be a bruising task for the business groups, but it’s something they say they now realize they have to do.
“Politics has always been a full-contact sport. The most active groups often command the most attention, and that’s why the tea party has risen in its influence within the GOP,” Mr. French said. “The shutdown has made it clear that the business community cannot afford to stay on the sidelines any longer. If you don’t like what’s going on in Washington, get in the game and make a difference.”
The battle has been joined in a few races. Besides Mr. McConnell, the tea party is targeting Sen. Lamar Alexander, a pragmatic Republican from Tennessee, and eight-term Rep. Michael K. Simpson, Idaho Republican. Business proponents, in turn, are pledging to unseat Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, who defeated Robert Bennett in 2008, in one of the first successful conservative primary campaigns against a GOP incumbent.