WASHINGTON — A slice of corporate America thinks tea partyers have overstayed their welcome in Washington and should be shown the door in next year's congressional elections.
In what could be a sign of challenges to come across the country, two U.S. House races in Michigan mark a turnabout from several years of widely heralded contests in which right-flank candidates have tried — sometimes successfully — to unseat Republican incumbents they perceive as not being conservative enough.
In the Michigan races, longtime Republican businessmen are taking on two House incumbents — hardline conservative Reps. Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio — in GOP primaries. The 16-day partial government shutdown and the threatened national default are bringing to a head a lot of pent-up frustration over GOP insurgents roughing up the the the business community's agenda.
Democrats hope to use this rift within the GOP to their advantage. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House committee to elect Democrats, insists there's been "buyer's remorse with House Republicans who have been willing to put the economy at risk," and that it is opening the political map for Democrats in 2014.
That's what the Democrats would be expected to say. But there's also Defending Main Street, a new GOP-leaning group that's halfway to its goal of raising $8 million. It plans to spend that money on center-right Republicans who face a triumvirate of deep-pocketed conservative groups — Heritage Action, Club for Growth and Freedom Works — and their preferred, typically tea party candidates.
In one race, the group plans to help Idaho eight-term Rep. Mike Simpson, who faces a Club for Growth-backed challenger in a GOP primary.
"These conservative groups have had it all their own way," said former Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, head of the new group. "They basically come in with millions of dollars and big-foot a Republican primary and you wind up with these Manchurian candidates who are not interested in governing."
LaTourette said that for the past three years, some "40, 42 House members have effectively denied the Republican Party the power of the majority" that it won in the 2010 election by blocking the GOP agenda.
Defending Main Street is meeting Nov. 5 in New York with wealthy potential donors.
Call it the wrath of establishment Republicans and corporate America, always considered the best of friends. Since the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, they've watched the GOP insurgents slow a transportation bill and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, block a treaty governing the high seas and stand in the way of comprehensive immigration legislation.
The final straw was the bitter budget standoff that partly shuttered the government, precipitated by Republicans like Amash and Bentivolio who enlisted early in the campaign demanding that President Barack Obama dismantle his health care law in exchange for keeping the government operating.
Long before the shutdown, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent tens of millions boosting mainly Republicans in congressional races, urged the GOP to fund the government and prevent a default, then double back and try and work out changes to the health care law later.
A significant number of House Republicans have given a cold-shoulder to the Chamber's agenda. Rob Engstrom, the group's political director, said the Chamber will see how races develop before deciding on its involvement next year.
In seizing on the rift, Israel and Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's national finance chairman, sent a letter to more than 1,000 business leaders reminding them that Democrats voted unanimously to end the shutdown and avoid default while House Republicans "turned their backs on business in favor of the radical demands of the tea party."
Republicans dismiss this Democratic outreach to the business community as wishful thinking.
"I don't think Democrats will be successful because the biggest headwinds we face in the economy right now are of their making, from regulation to the Affordable Care Act to this obsession with higher taxes," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. "Certainly the uncertainty of the last month has not been helpful, but that's on top of a heap of other uncertainty."