Every since Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, the Republican caucus has been more fractured and divided than anytime in modern history. The wave of new Congresspeople featured many “Tea Party” politicians than ran and won on bucking the establishment. However, GOP leaders soon realized that the “establishment” did just refer to Obama and Democrats, but GOP leaders themselves. For the last five years, Speaker Boehner and now Speaker Ryan have had to deal with the unruly “Freedom Caucus” — a collection of tea-party politicians who often refuse to compromise on legislation. The Freedom Caucus has forced the GOP establishment to turn to Democrats for must-pass measures on more than one occasion. Boehner saw his leadership challenged several times and even Ryan has had to watch his back.
Establishment Strikes Back and the Farm Bill
The GOP’s internal division has spilled out into the campaigns. Establishment candidates have faced primaries from more conservative candidates. However, the establishment wing of the GOP has begun to fight back. Last year, the Chamber of Commerce announced it would take on GOP incumbents that effectively stood in the way of governing. Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp fit the model of a congressman the establishment forced of the GOP would target. He was a prominent Freedom Congress member that backed a challenge to Boehner for Speaker. His antics cost him his seat on the Agriculture Committee, a coveted seat considering his district, the Kansas 1st, has more farmers than any in the country. In addition to this loss of a committee assignment, Huelskamp angered voters in his district by opposing the Farm Bill, a large bi-partisan bill that is key for farmers to maintain their livelihood.
Huelskamp almost lost his 2014 primary due to his antics. He only got 56% of the vote in a race against an opponent that didn’t have nearly the same level of backing his 2016 opponent received.
The 2016 Campaign
When 2016 came around, there was a concerted effort to finally oust Huelskamp. Opposition rallied around Roger Marshall, a physician. Marshall had the financial backing of major agriculture organizations and the Chamber of Commerce. Huelskamp had the Koch Brothers on his side, but Marshall had more 3rd party money backing him than the incumbent. Farm issues was center to the campaign, with the Kansas Farm Bureau backing Marshall and attacking the incumbent for his opposition to farm issues and his removal from the Agriculture Committee. The narrative of the campaign was that Huelskamp’s attitude made him ineffective and he put purity over getting things done to help his district. The primary was expected to be close, but in the end, Marshall won comfortably.
Huelskamp lost a vast majority of the counties in his district. He only won big in Meade, his home county, and its neighbors. Compared to his 2014 election, he lost ground in all by two counties.
Huelskamp is the only congressman to lose his primary this year that isn’t due to redistricting or scandal. At the end of the day, voters decided they wanted someone who could be effective for their district.
Probably the most amusing portion of the evening was when this photo surfaced on twitter. Apparently former Speaker Boehner had received word of Huelskamp’s fate.
I get a sense a similar smile was on Speaker Ryan’s face as well.