Update (11/6/2013): David Barton announced Wednesday that he won’t run for Congress, despite prodding from tea part activists. “I am deeply honored and humbled by the heartfelt efforts of thousands of people encouraging me to run for the U.S. Senate,” he wrote in a statement. “But as important as one seat in the U. S. Senate is, we also have generations of citizens that need to know our constitutional principles and rich heritage. Such education will result in the election of many more constitutionally-minded common-sense patriots in coming years….I will continue to work side-by-side with you in the trenches to educate the nation, while also recruiting, training, and electing a new generation of conservative leaders.”
In one of the starkest signs yet of the tea party’s take-no-prisoners war on the Republican establishment, conservative activists are pressing controversial historian David Barton to challenge the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn (R-Texas). Glenn Beck touted Barton’s would-be candidacy and taunted Cornryn on his show last Thursday, saying, “You should quiver in your boots and hide, John.”
One of Barton’s closest advisors, Rick Green, recently told the National Review Online that more than 1,000 Republican and tea party leaders had asked the historian to enter the race. Green added that Barton would seriously consider running “if the people of Texas speak loud enough,” and urged backers to show their support by liking the new “Draft David Barton for Senate” Facebook page. JoAnn Fleming, the executive director of Grassroots America We The People, a Texas tea party group, also weighed in, telling NRO that tea party activists were planning a conference call with Barton in the next week to discuss his possible candidacy. “We need a Constitutional conservative in that seat,” she said. “We believe that Senator Cornyn has become part of the establishment and we don’t believe that his priorities reflect the priorities of the people of Texas any longer.”
Cornyn, a third-term Congressman, has solid conservative credentials; in 2012, the National Journal named him the second most conservative US Senator. But he has rankled tea party activists by refusing to back some of the economic brinksmanship advocated by Texas’ junior senator Ted Cruz during the federal shutdown and debt-ceiling negotiations.
Many tea partiers believe Cornyn is ripe for a primary challenge. And Barton, the former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party, has some advantages over other insurgent candidates, including name recognition and deep political ties. As Michelle Goldberg explained on the Daily Beast last year:
It’s hard to overstate how important Barton has been in shaping the worldview of the Christian right, and of populist conservatives more generally. A self-taught historian with a degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University, he runs a Texas-based organization called WallBuilders, which specializes in books and videos meant to show that the founding fathers were overwhelmingly “orthodox, evangelical” believers who intended for the United States to be a Christian nation. Newt Gingrich has called his work “wonderful” and “most useful.” George W. Bush’s campaign hired him to do clergy outreach in 2004. In 2010, Glenn Beck called him called him “the most important man in America right now.”
Barton, who believes America should be governed by Biblical law, also helped write the 2008 Republican Party platform. And he has advised numerous political candidates, including former Arkansas governor and presidential contender Mike Huckabee, who has said that all Americans should be “forced at gunpoint” to “listen to every David Barton message.”
But Barton’s ideas wouldn’t necessarily fare well on the campaign trail. This, after all, is a man who argues that Jesus would oppose the minimum wage and that the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was a liberal plot. Secular critics have long argued that Barton’s scholarship is sloppy and littered with errors. The reaction to his 2012 book, The Jefferson Lies, which portrays Jefferson as a devout Christian who opposed church-state separation, was particularly scathing. The History News Network (a project of George Mason University) voted it the “Least Credible History Book in Print.” Following its release, Barton also came under withering attack from Christian scholars; professors Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton of Pennsylvania’s Grove City College, a mostly conservative Christian school, wrote an entire book debunking Barton’s claims. Barton’s Christian publisher eventually dropped The Jefferson Lies entirely, saying it had “lost confidence in the book’s details.”
In light of these facts, some conservatives are skittish about the prospect of a Barton Senate run. “I heartily agree that Texas Sen. John Cornyn needs to be primaried,” conservative radio host Janet Mefferd wrote on Facebook. “But not by David Barton. He has way too much baggage on his ‘historian’ credentials.” Barton’s critics, meanwhile, see his possible candidacy as an opportunity to expose his ideas to even greater scrutiny. “If he runs, I hope the press will shine a bright light on his claims about history and government,” Throckmorton told Mother Jones.
Still, Barton’s standing among supporters is as strong as ever. Today, he’s coaching state lawmakers across the county on fighting the Common Core, a set of uniform academic standards, which are being rolled out in public schools nationwide. Over the summer, he headlined a conference for conservative pastors with Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul (R-Ky). “I’m not in a position to opine on academic disputes between historians, but I can tell you that David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend,” Cruz told Politico in September. “David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.”
Never mind that many of those principles aren’t rooted in fact.