Sasse wins, Tea Party celebrates

And so does the media, which now has a narrative on which they can chew for a while longer. Ben Sasse cruised to victory in Nebraska’s Republican primary, beating Shane Osborn to represent the GOP for the US Senate race in November. He offered up some healing words in his victory speech last night, but the narrative of Tea Party vs Establishment continues … kind of:

The victory notched by tea party Republicans in the Nebraska Senate race was modest, but they’ll take it in a season that has yielded few bright spots so far.

Ben Sasse won the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. Sasse was the closest thing to a tea party candidate in the three-man race, largely because he feuded last fall with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the epitome of establishment Republicanism.

But Sasse is hardly the out-of-right-field firebrand that some tea partyers cherish. A college president with degrees from Harvard and Yale, he worked for the U.S. departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. Those endorsing him ranged from non-mainstream players – including Sarah Palin and the Club for Growth – to well-established Republicans such as five-term Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and former Gov. Kay Orr.

Sasse, 42, had “visiting scholar status” at the Brookings Institution, the venerated left-of-center think tank near the White House.

Several factors make the Nebraska results rather weak tea for tea party celebrations. Sasse’s conservative credentials don’t differ greatly from his opponents’, especially Shane Osborn. Osborn had the conservative group FreedomWorks’ endorsement before it was switched to Sasse.

And Nebraska is so strongly Republican that party leaders felt confident that any GOP nominee will defeat the Democratic candidate, Omaha lawyer Dave Domina, and then vote the party line in Washington.

For the most part, the Tea Party-Establishment narrative fails anyway. The Tea Party movement isn’t a faction in a civil war, but is a grassroots current which is forcing the Republican Party to evolve. Future candidates will have to have some appeal to the Tea Party movement in order to win, while incumbents may be able to organize effectively in the short run to avoid that kind of accountability.

Chalking up wins in open primaries as Tea Party or Establishment is far too glib, and doesn’t really tell the story. New faces will work with both sides, but will give the Tea Party movement more voices with which to move the agenda to their liking. Sasse isn’t going to Washington to score a few points in a bitter personal feud, but to work in passing policies that fit better with the movement’s agenda.

Sasse remained gracious last night, praising his opponents and looking forward to the fight: