It turns out the ultimate year of the outsider is pretty much limited to Donald Trump.
Establishment-aligned GOP primary candidates for Congress beat conservative challengers this summer in just about every major matchup, a stark reversal of the dynamic that’s driven Republican politics since 2010.
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Tea party candidates failed to take out a single GOP incumbent this year; among the higher-profile targets who survived were Sen. John McCain of Arizona, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas and Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania.
More glaring, given the difficulty of toppling an incumbent, was the inability of conservatives groups like the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund to capture more than a handful of open seats, as conservative candidates who pledged to vote with the far-right House Freedom Caucus fell to contenders backed by mainstream Republican groups, including two in Arizona and Florida on Tuesday.
The results upended recent GOP primary history, in which establishment candidates have consistently been on defense trying to shield incumbents from challengers from their right. This year, establishment-aligned groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined with Joe Ricketts’ Ending Spending group (which has also backed more conservative candidates in the past) to not only fend off challengers but proactively target seats.
Indeed, aside from its spectacular failure to stop Trump from winning the nomination, the Republican establishment is having a very good year.
Its biggest success was picking off Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus who was backed by the Club, FreedomWorks and the House Liberty Project in one of the most closely watched primaries this election cycle.
Some Republicans attribute the success to catching conservatives by surprise. Some of these establishment-allied groups had rarely played …