Getting Primaried: The Dreaded Verb

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Speaker John Boehner walks past journalists on his return to the Capitol after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Dec. 13, 2012 in Washington.

No one wants to get “primaried.”

Certainly not Republican members of Congress who have seen some of their colleagues run out of office in party primaries by Tea Party-backed candidates and others who have challenged them for breaking with an anti-tax orthodoxy.

In the tortured grammar of politics, the ritual of intraparty rivarly has become a dreaded verb.

As Speaker John Boehner, leader of the Republican-run House, negotiates with President Barack Obama in a bid to avert automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1, the threat of members going along with any compromise getting “primaried” hangs in the air.

“We’re not going to do something in the dark, late at night where no one knows what the practical effect and outcome is,” Rep. Pete Sessions, incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, said today in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt. “If we do that, we do get primaried.”

At the same time, Sessions told Hunt that he can accept some mix of tax increases and spending cuts, which is what the White House is seeking in the so-called fiscal cliff talks – and suggested that other Republicans will sign on to such a compromise.

Still, Republicans aren’t simply imagining the threat of getting primaried over any tax compromise.

As Bloomberg’s Julie Bykowicz reports,  a letter circulated to House and Senate Republicans warned that social conservatives will unite to vote them out in 2014 primaries if they accede to Obama’s plans to raise tax rates for the highest-income Americans.

“Let us also remind you that a great many potent conservative organizations and millions of conservative and liberty-loving voters do not believe in the divine right of incumbents to be re-nominated,” the letter says. “Conservatives know how to recruit and support candidates.”

It was signed by dozens of leaders of Republican-leaning groups, including For America, Let Freedom Ring, the Family Research Council and the Conservative Action Project. Foster Friess, a millionaire Wyoming investor and major Republican campaign donor, and Republican writers such as RedState editor Erick Erickson also appear on the list of signatories.

It’s not only the House where Republicans worry about getting primaried.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, “might be vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2014 — but it’s unclear who, if anyone, might step up to run against him,” The Hill reports. Sate Sen. Tom Davis, his name floated as the one most likely to challenge the two-term senator, downplayed the likelihood he’d run but did say that Graham “should be primaried.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, his opponents calling him Taxby for talking about compromise.

Public Policy Polling, in a survey of Georgia voters, talks about what would happen “if Chambliss was taken out in the primary… It could have the potential to be a race if Chambliss does get primaried.”

At, one wag writes about what Boehner must be telling Obama in those “frank” meetings at the White House:

“s many as 80 percent of my guys are worried about being primaried if they cave too soon. And very few of them are worried about winning their generals, so the incentive is to resist. That’s why I’m increasingly pessimistic about getting this done by Christmas. We’re on track for December 28ish, because it can’t look like I’m caving preemptively or precipitously.”


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