Toomey, Rubio, and the rise of the ‘Teastablishment’?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Twice, national conservatives backed Pat Toomey’s primary efforts against former Sen. Arlen Specter. The first time, of course, Toomey was narrowly defeated, but the second time, he went on to become a U.S. senator.

But here’s the thing: Specter was criticized for being too much of a bipartisan compromiser — too establishment. And Pat Toomey was cast (and in some cases, “sold“) as being “too conservative for Pennsylvania.”

Yet since his 2010 election, Toomey has mostly governed as a center-right, establishment Republican. And later today, he will join Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin at a press conference calling for expanded background checks on gun purchases. This may or may not be a modest proposal, but it is far from what you might expect from a conservative “fighter” elected during the year of the tea party.

And it could very well guarantee some watered-down form of gun control passes. As RedState’s Erick Erickson notes, “Several of the Republicans are using the Manchin-Toomey compromise plan as an excuse to cave on the gun filibuster.”

This gives me two immediate thoughts: First, if Pat Toomey were going to be a standard Republican who works across the aisle to forge compromises with Democrats anyway, then why did conservatives expend so much energy trying to elect him (and oust another Republican senator with more experience)?

Granted, you may say that Toomey has to move to the center in order to win re-election in 2016. But one could also have used that excuse to forgive Specter’s penchant for bipartisan compromise.

The second thing this highlights is that all the worry about those “crazy” and extreme conservative tea party candidates elected to the U.S. senate in 2010 was overwrought.

True, some of the fringe conservative candidates that year lost general elections. That’s the system working. But look at the candidates who won.

Aside from Toomey, 2010 also gave us Sen. Marco Rubio — who is working across the aisle on immigration reform — and Sen. Rand Paul, who recently endorsed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for re-election in Kentucky.

That hardly sounds extreme.