WASHINGTON – “What conservatives are facing now is a Waterloo.”
That’s the stark assessment of conservative commentator Daniel Horowitz the day after Tuesday’s shocking primary loss by conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., in a landslide.
The incumbent loss by a whopping 13 percentage points to newcomer Roger Marshall isn’t just sending shock waves through Washington; it’s parting the Republican Party like the Red Sea.
Furthermore, the schism isn’t pitting just the GOP establishment against party insurgents; it’s also causing a sharp divide among conservatives themselves.
There are two schools of thought among conservatives. Some extremely prominent commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter have portrayed the Kansan’s defeat as vindication for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom Huelskamp initially opposed, then endorsed. But others, particularly the congressman’s right-leaning colleagues in the House, warn it is nothing less than an all-out assault by House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP establishment on conservatism itself.
Worse yet, they see it as a template the GOP establishment, having tasted initial success, will now use to try to drive conservatives out of the Republican Party for good.
That template is said to employ a wolf in sheep’s clothing ploy: harnessing the prevailing deep anti-Washington sentiment among Republican voters to gin up support for an establishment-backed insider pretending to be an outsider, while portraying an incumbent conservative as an entrenched D.C.-insider.
And it’s all done with the support of big money from the GOP establishment abetted by a compliant media, according to Horowitz, who is a senior editor at Conservative Review and author of WND Books’ recently released “Stolen Sovereignty: How to Stop Unelected Judges from Transforming America.”
Horowitz told WND, first of all, Huelskamp was anything but a Washington insider because insiders don’t put their careers on the line opposing big spending bills pushed by the GOP establishment.
Additionally, for his strident opposition to establishment kingpin and former House Speaker John Boenher, R-Ohio, Huelskamp was even booted from his seat on the House Agriculture Committee, an especially important post for someone representing a farm state.
What Horowitz found particularly alarming was how he believed the establishment had figured out how to turn the tables by portraying an incumbent conservative as a D.C. insider.
Conservatives, he told WND, “are facing a real crisis because the K Street lobbyists, the interests represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have learned how to pick our lock. They’ve realized a tactic that is successful.”
“Not only are they winning all the races and defending all their incumbents,” he continued, “the significant and important thing to realize is the one big name to go down a primary is one of the most conservative and anti-establishment members of Congress. This is a first. This is the first big-name to go down.”
And Horowitz doesn’t think Huelskamp will be the last target.
“This is a dire warning to conservatives,” he told WND. “And for anyone who steps out of line and doesn’t support leadership.” The commentator called it cruelly ironic because the special interests are channeling voter anger against special interests to back candidates supported by – special interests.
An example of that is said to be campaign tweets sent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s national political director, Rob Engstrom, who flew to Kansas to endorse Marshall.
During the campaign, he tweeted: “@TimHuelskamp is a key ally of Liberal Democrats &@BarackObama to attack the American Free Enterprise system. Not a single accomplishment.”
And: “20 yrs of failure in politics is enough for a Fake, Self-Appointed ‘conservative.’ Time for “Washing-Tim” to go, KS1 needs a Representative.”
“The establishment has defended every incumbent and won most of the open seats this way,” said Horowitz. “Now they’ve become bold enough to take their show on the road to knock off the few incumbents the conservatives have.”
But that’s not the explanation for Huelskamp’s demise put forward by some of the most influential conservatives.
On his radio show Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh called the congressman “a rabidly anti-Trump incumbent.”
“Nothing against Huelskamp here,” said Limbaugh. “That’s not my point here. I’m just pointing out that a relative unknown in a Republican primary ran against somebody on the basis that he loved Trump. He liked Trump, he wants Trump, and he’s running against an incumbent who’s making a big deal out of being a Never Trumper. And the Never Trumper lost in a landslide.”
Perhaps Trump’s most ardent supporter, columnist Ann Coulter tweeted: ” Hahahaha! Huelskamp opposed Trump,” and, “Tea party is irrelevant – it’s the TRUMP Party.”
WND asked Coulter to further explain her perspective, given that Huelskamp did endorse Trump, albeit, after having strongly criticized the eventual nominee when he was still backing Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Coulter told WND, “It’s all explained in my upcoming smash book, ‘In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!’ They’re all living in the past, fighting the last war, using yesterday’s talking points. What does ‘pro-life’ mean in a country where Americans are being outvoted by foreigners?”
“All that matters is Trump, immigration and the wall,” she continued. “Huelskamp was on the wrong side; he had to go. In the debate, Marshall said he’d support Trump as the nominee. Cruz-bot Huelskamp, declined to express support for our party’s nominee, saying he’d ‘vote his conscience.'”
Huelskamp did strongly criticize Trump back on May 15, even after he had become the presumptive nominee, saying on Fox News Sunday, “He’s vulgar, he’s crass,” and, ”The best thing about Donald Trump today is he’s not Hillary Clinton. But he’s certainly not a conservative, either.”
“It’s not just me,” Helskamp added. “I think there are millions of soccer moms, football dads, baseball dads across America … and they have a presidential candidate who is demeaning the women. … I have a 9-year-old, and he can’t even listen to the guy on television.”
However, by July 7, when Trump visited GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Huelskamp changed his tone dramatically and the two were all smiles while even posing together for a picture.
“I thought it was a great meeting. It was fantastic,” said Huelskamp. “I walked out of there saying this guy’s going to beat Hillary Clinton. That’s the beginning of the end of Hillary.”
On the same day, nearly a month before the Kansas primary, the congressman’s campaign posted a glowing endorsement of Trump, with Huelskamp singing the candidate’s praises for his commitment to appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, fixing the Veterans Administration and supporting American farmers.
However, Trump did not endorse Huelskamp.
Whether the congressman’s relationship with the nominee determined Huelskamp’s loss may be matter of opinion, but there’s no doubt there exists an honest difference among conservatives as to what is happening to the GOP.
Many conservatives, such as talk-radio star Mark Levin see the congressman’s loss as a big victory by the Republican establishment, blaming “so-called conservative organizations like the American Conservative Union and the Chamber of Commerce.”
Those sentiments were echoed Wednesday by stalwart conservative Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group that includes Huelskamp.
In a statement, Jordan said for “saying no to business as usual in Washington,” Huleskamp “was punished by the same party insiders and special interests that Republican voters across the country overwhelmingly rejected at the ballot box throughout the presidential nomination process.”
He added, “In an ugly and dishonest campaign, Tim’s record was attacked and misrepresented by big money special interest groups who wanted to exact their revenge.”
Jordan also explicitly criticized his own party for Huelskamp’s defeat, while implicitly blaming House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Republicans need to be unified behind conservative principles to stop the Obama/Clinton agenda. The House Republican leadership’s opposition to Tim Huelskamp significantly damaged the ability of House Republicans to do that.”
On Wednesday, Huelskamp blamed $3 million in “outside money” and the media for Marshall’s win.
He told a reporter, “[Y]ou all refused to cover the facts that millions of dollars of super PACs were coming in; you refused to cover the lies they told about my record.”
Huelskamp explained during an interview with WND earlier this week that big money pouring in to support his opponent was payback for his opposition to the GOP establishment.
“I said to John Boehner, privately, after he kicked me off the ag committee, ‘I don’t work for you, Mr. Speaker.’ And it’s about time the American people got the Congress back. And I don’t care who the speaker is, I don’t work for him. I don’t work for the president of the United States.”
Speaking of Marshall, Huelskamp had told WND, “On all key issues, he’s a liberal. And I’m a proven conservative.”
“I am pro-life, he’s not,” continued the Kansan. “He’s had a multi-year association with a pro-abortion group. He’s not only a member but a prestigious fellow in their group. He actually contributes to their political action committee. Once, he even said this pro-abortion group did more for the unborn than any other group.”
The group, the American College of OB/GYN, released a position paper in November 2014 stating, “Safe, legal abortion is a necessary component of women’s health care.”
Huelskamp said the group’s political action committee, or PAC, donated money to his opponent, and that it “supports Obama, supports Hillary, supports abortion on demand, partial-birth abortion, loves Obamacare and supports Planned Parenthood. So that’s a huge difference between us, a big issue.”
“He (Marshall) refuses to rule out any tax increases. He won’t sign the tax pledge,” Huelskamp added. “He has come out in favor of an Internet sales tax, which would be a $23 billion tax increase.”
But the biggest issue driving the opposition, according to the congressman, was his own opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants.
And that’s why, he said, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $400,000 to try to unseat him.
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce would like somebody who will do exactly what they tell them to do,” Huelskamp bluntly stated.
Especially on amnesty, he added, because they want cheap labor.
“These ag groups, the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, that are after me, it’s all about amnesty. I will not vote for amnesty. My opponent has said he is looking for a pathway to citizenship, which is akin to amnesty.”
That’s a super PAC that usually targets Democrats.
The paper said it is “made up of a handful of billionaire investors and hedge fund managers that includes the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and the family that turned World Wrestling Entertainment into a multibillion dollar international entertainment business.”
Marlene Ricketts, wife of T.D. Ameritrade founder J. Joseph Ricketts, contributed $850,000 to the PAC this election cycle. Their son, Tom, led the family bid to try to purchase the Cubs, and another son, Peter, is the Republican governor of Nebraska.
Another contributor to the super PAC is the wife of WWE kingpin Vince McMahon, Linda. “The largest donor to the ESA Fund is billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer of New York, who Forbes magazine estimates has a net worth of $2.2 billion,” according to the paper. Other hedge fund managers have also contributed.
“Particularly the one (PAC) funded by the Ricketts, they just don’t like conservatives,” Huelskamp told WND. “I’d say they probably hate conservatives.”
“They ran super PAC ads in Iowa to help Hillary, and they also ran ads going after Trump. So, this is an establishment PAC trying to send a message. Not just to me, but to all conservatives in Congress, that, ‘Hey, you either do what we say or were going to go after you.'”
Horowitz says the lesson now is there is no doubt the GOP elite has found a strategy that should make all conservatives extremely concerned.
“It was just astounding that this guy (Marshall) was portrayed as a fresh outsider versus a career politician. There’s no greater insider than someone who has never stepped foot in Congress yet is completely bought by every special interest before even stepping foot in there.”
He continued, “There’s no greater outsider than someone who was elected and stands his ground, even though he risks his career, his committee assignment and his political power.”
Horowitz warned there will be more conservative casualties if word does not get out about what the party elite is doing.
WND asked if things had gotten worse for House conservatives under Ryan than Boehner. Did he think the current speaker had a hand in engineering Huelskamp’s loss?
“I think Ryan himself is just so busy, I don’t think he personally had a hand in it,” he replied.
“It’s all the K Street and similar interests. I think it’s residual, kind of a delayed reaction. Sort of Boehner’s revenge. So they recruited a candidate. It’s just the system. And this guy is part of the system.”
Indeed, a former Boehner staffer posted a picture on Twitter of the former speaker celebrating with a glass of wine, presumably toasting Huelskamp’s defeat.
Horowitz told WND there’s another very important message here.
“To anyone who wants to reduce dependency, limit government, federalism, really the bread and butter of what we’re about, it’s very disturbing.”
He called Huelskamp a “three-legged stool” conservative: strong on national security, economics and social issues “at a time when nobody wants to touch religious liberty and marriage anymore on our side.”
“Guys like Marshall say they’re for traditional marriage – they all say that – but they will refuse to talk about it once they get in office.”
On the other hand, Horowitz described Huelskamp as a hero “who selflessly decided go after special interests and and big agriculture went after him. It’s very easy to demagogue. The special interests got their guy.
“This is a warning shot. This is very disturbing,” he observed, because this means that conservatives now have no place in their own party.
“You’ll be taken down by the special interests. You can have delegations of people that go with Democrats left and right, and that’s no problem,” he said, ruefully adding, “Conservatives are now just as welcome in the Republican Party as they are in the Democratic Party.”
Horowitz concluded, “From now on, people should be very alarmed we have not elected a single conservative to the Senate this cycle. In the House, we haven’t elected a single conservative to an open seat, and we haven’t knocked off a single incumbent. And now they’ve knocked off one of ours.”