Politico’s false narrative about Oklahoma’s GOP Senate primary

James Lankford

In the mind of Politico reporter Burgess Everett, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) was elected in the 2010 mid-terms and is, therefore, a “Tea Party guy.” After all, every Republican elected in that historic election can accurately be described with the Tea Party label, right?

Everett frames it this way in the lede (emphasis added):

Down here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, conservatives might eat one of their own.

Tea party celebrities Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee descended here on Thursday night to anoint their candidate to replace retiring Republican Sen. Tom Coburn: Republican former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

By embracing Shannon, they are leaving behind Rep. James Lankford, the fifth-highest-ranking member of the House GOP leadership, who is also bidding for the last two years of Coburn’s term. Lankford could be forgiven for thinking he had a shot at such prominent endorsements, since he rode the tea party wave of 2010 to a seat in the House. But the conservative glitterati think Shannon is a true believer and that Lankford has disappointed them by voting to raise the debt ceiling and joining Speaker John Boehner’s team

Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks PAC, two of the biggest conservative organizations, have also endorsed Shannon, who now leads Lankford in the Oklahoma Republican Senate primary.

Sorry, but the narrative presented by Politico just isn’t accurate. Lankford certainly isn’t the worst Republican in the House, but his voting record shows him to be an average, middle of the road guy. Part of the status quo, if you will.

The Club for Growth, for example, gives Lankford a 76 percent lifetime score. FreedomWorks has the Oklahoma Republican at 75 percent.

The latter actually shows that Lankford was good initially, holding an 87 percent score in 2011, the first year of his congressional career. But it was downhill from there. He came in at 50 percent in 2012 and 68 percent in 2013.

Of course, since Lankford announced his Senate bid, he’s been an ideal conservative, holding a 100 percent score for the current year. He’s trying to boost his bona fides. Because, you know, political convenience.

But Lankford is emblematic of what’s become of the 2010 freshman class. The Club for Growth looked at a number of votes from that these House Republicans made in a May 2012 analysis, finding that just 28 of the 87 freshman had scores of 82 percent or higher.

A look at Club’s analysis of Lankford’s voting record shows that the Oklahoma Republican couldn’t bring himself to vote for cuts to energy subsidies or a proposed 5 percent cut to the Department of Agriculture. He also voted against rolling back federal spending to more sustainable levels.

This isn’t an instance of conservatives “eating one of their own,” as much as Politico wants to present that narrative. Lankford didn’t have any prominent fiscal conservative support when in first ran for Congress, and when he got there, he didn’t waste much time picking what sort of Republican he wanted to be.

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