Cracked Up: Debate A Window Into Divided GOP

Today’s Tea Party Republican Senate debate in Mt. Pleasant may tell us almost nothing about the candidate most likely to challenge Debbie Stabenow in November.   But it does say something about the cranky state of Republican Tea Party politics in Michigan.

The Freep reported that Pete Hoekstra, the Republican frontrunner for Senate, is dissing the Michigan4ConservativeSenate Debate at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant.  Hoekstra mentioned not wanting to be part of a process that endorsed straw polls.  But this is the fourth or fifth tea party forum or debate Hoekstra has ducked, and it’s beginning to look like Hoekstra’s just afraid of defending his record as a Washington corporate lobbyist/politician.   

Today’s Republican Senate debate will include everyone else who’s running and is an outgrowth of a political power play involving about 100 Michigan Tea Party leaders and the Koch Bros’ Freedom Works. They hope to short-circuit the real Michigan GOP primary in August by anointing the right-wing candidate of their choice at a Tea Party straw poll in late February.  The debate is the first part of that two-step process.

The effort, however, has divided Republicans into at least three warring camps:  1) Tea Partiers and fellow travelers aligned with Freedom Works and Senate Republican candidates Clark Durant and Gary Glenn, 2)Hoekstra supporters including Gov. Rick Snyder, and 3) other Republican activists who aren’t buying into the Freedom Works power play. 

One of the odder things about all this is the date chosen for the Tea Party straw vote—Feb. 25—which is the weekend before the Tuesday Michigan Republican Presidential primary.    Call it a gift to Mitt Romney.  

Michigan Tea Partiers may be divided between the DeVos Clan’s favorite, Durant, and far-right cultural warrior, Glenn, over whom to support for Senate, but their disdain for the man from Bain is pretty clear.  Yet a good number of them will be off somewhere straw polling in hopes of crowning a conservative Senate candidate on a weekend when they should be organizing around the big presidential contest.

On the other hand, the Republican presidential contest is itself looking like a coronation, and coronations seem to be the preferred way of choosing Republican candidates in 2012.

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