TULSA, Okla. — 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.
It’s a new strand of Republican civil war: not the typical insurgent-versus-establishment story in the Sooner State, but a battle on the right for the deepest conservative bona fides. And if Shannon pulls off an upset over Lankford, it would send a message to Republicans: Watch out, the tea party can still shake up a primary.