It's now official. Republican write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski beat the tea party/Republican candidate Joe Miller for Alaska's U.S. Senate seat. Miller won the Republican primary with former governor Sarah Palin's backing.
A cabal, beginning with Palin, plus arch-conservative Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and like-minded others painted Murkowski as a social liberal and Wall Street supporter. Her sin? Murkowski acknowledged global warming as a problem. (For more insights, read, "Why Alaska Native Democrats voted for Murkowski" )
That sent Palin -- and the energy companies - into a fury, especially when Murkowski had the audacity to meet with President Obama to discuss compromises on a cap-and-trade bill.
Despite that Murkowski was a reliable vote against Obama on many other issues, she was open to voting for cap-and-trade legislation. And that's a sin the tea party/GOP and their Big Oil/Energy backers could not tolerate.
When Miller beat Murkowski in the primary, she said, "The Alaska Republican Party has been hijacked by the Tea Party Express, an outside extremist group."
It's expected Murkowski will continue in the Republican Party, although she will buck DeMint and minions. The first sign of this independence is her position on earmarks. Murkowski said she opposes measures to prohibit the directing of federal funds to her state's projects (earmarks), despite DeMint's efforts to enact a ban.
The Murkowski victory and aftermath is just the most recent window into the power struggles shaping up in the Republican Party. Many ultra-conservatives, like Karl Rove, don't want Palin anywhere near the 2012 nomination. Many think she is politically toxic.
Palin endorsed 64 candidates in the 2010 election cycle. Of those, 10 lost in the primaries. Out of the 54 remaining, 32 won and 20 lost, and two (Minnesota governor and New York 25) are still too close to call. Not a stellar record, but some would claim not too bad either.
However of the 32 Palin-endorsed 2010 election winners, 14 of them are characterized as GOP establishment, not tea party-linked candidates.
Save for Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky - both of whom had bases outside of the tea party/Palin realm - Palin-backed candidates lost all the other big Senate races.
Of the rest - some are considered "tea party" candidates when they are Republican incumbents, like Rick Perry of Texas and Michelle Bachman of Minnesota.
Palin's endorsements seemed to help a much smaller fraction of races than the raw numbers show.
Plus, her endorsements were politically toxic when it came to the big prize: the Senate.
When Delaware's Christine O'Donnell won the GOP primary in September, political analysts, including this website's John Wojcik, predicted the tea party/Palin/DeMint candidates would cost the GOP the Senate.
That's exactly what happened. O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and now Miller all went down to defeat, crushing the GOP's hopes of a total takeover.
Murkowski hasn't minced words when it comes to Palin. She told Politico she would not support a Palin candidacy for president because she lacks the "intellectual curiosity" for the job.
And she has some strong words for DeMint too. Murkowski said DeMint is out to further his own agenda and powerbase, at the expense of the Republicans overall. "Does he want to help the Republican majority, or is he on his own agenda, his own initiative?" she asked, and then answered, "I think he's out for his own initiative."
Media Matters reports the inner GOP power struggles are intensifying. Rove criticized Palin and her new show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, saying it doesn't fit into "the American calculus of 'that helps me see you in the Oval Office'."