Sen. Lindsey Graham averted a runoff Tuesday despite a heated Republican primary challenge from the right. But that doesn't prove the Tea Party is over.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., lost Tuesday to a little-known primary challenger from the right. But that doesn't prove the Tea Party is taking over the GOP.
In other words, don't jump to conclusions about the Tea Party, or any other party, based on any single race.
The Tea Party recently has suffered setbacks in GOP senatorial primaries in Kentucky and Georgia. But it's done well in Texas and Mississippi. In each race, specific issues - and candidates - frequently trump general trends.
And while pundits' assessments of the Tea Party's clout predictably ebb and flow with each primary outcome, it's important to remember that the Tea Party isn't really a party.
Instead, it's a political movement that emerged from well-founded alarm over the United States' reckless course toward fiscal oblivion. And it has helped force GOP candidates to pay more attention to that critical bottom line.
The Tea Party has backed some GOP insurgent candidates who have defeated the party establishment's picks for U.S. Senate seats. Among those victors are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, now both potential 2016 presidential candidates.
But now some Tea Partiers are jumping off Sen. Rubio's bandwagon because he's on board with immigration reform. And Sen. Cruz' confrontational zeal for the filibuster has frequently put him at odds with longtime GOP insiders - including Sen. Graham.
Meanwhile, some Tea Party candidates have wandered to unfortunate extremes, and not just on the defining crisis of fiscal responsibility.
Here in our state, Tea Party adherents have made overwrought accusations that Sen. Graham isn't a real conservative, and thus should be ousted from office by his own party's voters.
National radio star Glenn Beck, a relentless Tea Party-type critic of Sen. Graham, even offered - with a rueful laugh - this Wednesday morning reaction to the two-term incumbent's triumph:
"South Carolina, you're dead to me."
So since when does seeking a balanced, bipartisan and long-overdue fix for a broken federal immigration system betray conservatism? Is it really conservative to stick with the failed immigration status quo?
As for Sen. Graham's role in forging a compromise to advance judicial appointments, that will benefit not just future presidents of both parties but the nation. The ugly modern trend of hyper-partisan Senate obstruction of court confirmations is not a truly conservative concept.
And Sen. Graham's successful push for federal funding to deepen Charleston Harbor is not an example of wasteful pork-barrel spending decried by fiscal conservatives. Instead, it's an admirable demonstration of how an elected official can advance a priority project vital to the future economies of both his state and nation.
Despite the bitter opposition of many Tea Party people in and out of our state, Sen. Graham took more than 56 percent of the vote Tuesday. State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, was a distant second among the six challengers with 15 percent.
In the other U.S. Senate race here, incumbent Tim Scott, who's more in line with the Tea Party than Sen. Graham, won 90 percent of the vote against a single GOP primary foe Tuesday. Sen. Scott, appointed to his office by Gov. Nikki Haley early last year, now stands primed to become the first black person elected to statewide office in South Carolina since 1872.
On the local front, state Rep. Chip Limehouse narrowly defeated challenger Russell Guerard in an acrimonious District 110 GOP primary. The slim unofficial margin of 39 out of nearly 3,700 delivers another reminder that a small number of votes can make a big difference.
Tuesday's embarrassingly low statewide turnout - a scant 14 percent - was another sad indication that far too many South Carolinians are missing their chance to have a self-governing say in who wins elective office.
But those who didn't vote Tuesday get another chance in the runoffs on June 24. Among those races that didn't produce majority winners Tuesday - the GOP primary for lieutenant governor and both the Democratic and GOP primaries for state superintendent of education.
And just as on Tuesday, the voters who bother to show up will decide the winners.
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