As it stands, many consider the right flank in the Senate to consist of Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and David Vitter of Louisiana. But if Republicans have a great day on Nov. 2, they could be adding Nevada’s Sharron Angle, Alaska’s Joe Miller, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Colorado’s Ken Buck, Utah’s Mike Lee, Florida’s Marco Rubio, and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey to their ranks – and potentially others.
Many of the conservative firebrands in the group are affiliated with the Tea Party. They’re all outsiders, many of whom defeated the GOP establishment candidate in their primary elections. Let’s just say it won’t be sleepy in the Senate come 2011.
“The GOP Senate caucus will be the most conservative since at least World War II,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
For conservatives, that sounds pretty good. Some imagine the strengthened numbers of conservatives will form a pivotal block that will move the entire body to the right.
“That’d be good for the Party, more DeMints, more Coburns,” said one conservative GOP operative to The Daily Caller.
But for Republican moderates, the Rand Pauls and Sharron Angles of the world are disconcerting. Some express fear that what they perceive as the candidates’ “radical” views will prove a political liability for the Republican Party.
Angle is “just out of sight with her crazy claims,” said former New York Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a moderate who now works to push the GOP leftward on environmental issues.
One moderate GOP House aide was more blunt in an interview with TheDC. “Dude, I’m terrified. These people are f***ing nuts,” he said.
For Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the change in the composition of Senate Republicans may require a change in leadership style. Conservative sources describe McConnell as frequently maneuvering behind the scenes towards moderate goals – especially on spending issues – while avoiding taking a stance on those issues in public.
But two of McConnell’s key lieutenants, Sens. Bob Bennett of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both lost in primaries to more conservative candidates. A former conservative Senate aide told TheDC that McConnell frequently relied on Bennett and Murkowski to mollify more conservative senators.
Replacing Bennett and Murkowski, in all likelihood, will be Utah’s Mike Lee, who said he’d like to wind-down Social Security, and Alaska’s Joe Miller, who said Medicare might be unconstitutional.
McConnell, considered an extremely savvy infighter, is unlikely to lose his spot as leader of the caucus. “McConnell is a survivor,” said another conservative GOP strategist to TheDC. Instead, he’ll likely move to the right to accommodate the new dynamic, a broad array of sources said.
McConnell is clearly aware of the issue. After the GOP establishment lost its fourth straight primary battle to a conservative outsider (Rubio vs. Charlie Crist in Florida, Miller vs. Murkowski in Alaska, Lee vs. Bennett in Utah and Buck vs. Jane Norton in Colorado), McConnell preemptively stated that he “already [has] the votes to be re-elected as Republican leader, and will be re-elected.”
His office did not respond to a request for comment, but he recently described the incoming GOP caucus as likely to be “a mixture of folks.”