Delaware in the Control: Why, for tea partiers, the outcome really matters
posted at 3:35 pm on September 15, 2010 by Patrick Ishmael
When William F. Buckley endorsed Joe Lieberman for the Senate in 1988, the Connecticut Republican Party was in the midst of a deep rift with the Republican incumbent, Lowell Weicker. As Buckley wrote as he remembered the episode in 2006,
Senator Weicker aroused such animus among alert conservative citizens of Connecticut that a few of us took solemn oaths to work against his reelection in 1988–when he was opposed by Joe Lieberman.
Members of my family were no doubt influenced by Senator Weicker’s reluctance to admit brother James Buckley, elected U.S. Senator from New York, to membership in the Republican caucus in the Senate. Weicker made the point that Senator Buckley had been elected not on the GOP ticket, but on the Conservative Party ticket. A committee was formed (BuckPac) arguing that a vote for Lieberman was a vote for ideological decontamination of the Republican Party, Lowell Weicker having, by 1988, emerged as the weepiest liberal willow in public life. Moreover, he had perfected a self-infatuated pomposity that made voting against him a carnal pleasure.
Lieberman would go on to win the seat, telling Buckley: “You have reason, Bill, to take part of the credit for this, I won by less than one percent of the vote.”
Readers of this episode could take away at least three starkly different morals-to-the-story.
The first: “It’s okay to unseat an incumbent as a warning to Republicans who get too liberal.” The RINO hunting approach to choosing the Republican nominee has been very popular — and very successful — in this election cycle. Pennsylvania, Florida, Alaska… red and even purple state Republicans can afford to choose more conservative nominees without it necessarily reversing electoral fortunates to the Democrats in this electoral environment. Making an example or two out of Republicans out of step with at least 50%+1 of the state population is a necessary, and admittedly highly entertaining endeavor, for conservatives.
The second: “You can vote support a liberal and still be a conservative.” The notion that a shadowy Ruling Class © picks our candidates is absurd, and just slightly more absurd than the idea that one’s ideological purity and reliability is dependent on doctrinaire support of only the most doctrinaire candidates. Sometimes ideological objectives are advanced through strategic support, and sometimes strategic support means getting behind people who don’t believe exactly as you do about the role of government, but can get elected.
The third: “If you do unseat an incumbent party-mate, there will be consequences, most importantly in policy.” The most glaringly obvious outcome of Lieberman’s victory in Connecticut is that Joe Lieberman is… still representing Connecticut, over two decades on. Whether his predecessor would have been a 100% reliable partisan to the Republican Party is speculatory, but one thing is certain: that he would have been a Republican. Lieberman’s a moderate, but he’s not our moderate, and that makes a difference when you’re voting on Obamacare, Cap and Trade, and a whole host of social programs that can only be curbed by a larger Republican caucus.
Now that the race in Delaware has concluded with a Christine O’Donnell victory, let’s lay some facts on the table that apply to these three interpretations. First, anti-“establishment”-ism was a major factor in the Tea Party’s determination to unseat Mike Castle. Mark Levin’s farsical Facebook posts in support of this cause encapsulated the worst of it — petty, petulant, and prejudiced against legitimate criticisms of his candidate from the Right. Levin’s rants were parodistic, but that sentiment was palpably there. Second, if Castle had been the nominee, Republicans would have almost certainly won the seat. The polling speaks for itself. Castle was a former governor and long, long-time elected official; he was likely going to win.
Lastly, if Republicans lose Delaware, it won’t be “the establishment’s fault.” This is where I think O’Donnell hyper-partisans tried to spin last night’s reality check after the NRSC publicly (stupidly) refused to support her in the general (which they’ve since reversed themselves on.) The intervention of the Tea Party Express, Sarah Palin, Jim Demint, and others into the Delaware primary was important because if successful, it was going to actually be detrimental to GOP chances of taking the Senate, and thus detrimental to GOP legislative objectives. Delaware went from “sure thing” to “holy hell what happened” overnight, and the reason isn’t “poor candidate selection by the RINO beltway crowd.” It’s because Tea Partiers by-and-large chose to support a candidate not because of her credentials, her character, or her electability, but solely because of her avowed conservatism.
That electoral outcome costs money which rank-and-file, grassroots Republicans (and not just the NRSC) would rather spend on harder-to-win races instead of races, like in Delaware, that should have been closer to a cake-walk.
If Tea Partiers want to make a point about the fecklessness of the establishment, it shouldn’t bother itself with opining about one of its chief sponsors being hesitant to help O’Donnell, and should donate directly to her, keeping this in mind: If O’Donnell does not win in November, fellow Republicans — specifically conservatives that supported Castle to get Joe Biden’s seat and a Senate majority, and moderates more inclined to vote for him anyway — will use the loss as a cautionary tale to rank-and-file members in the future, which will harm Tea Party causes.
This will be the purest referendum on the Republican/conservative purity movement in the Tea Party Era. Again, if you care about care about taking the seat in Delaware and care about O’Donnell Republicans getting nominated elsewhere, you want to make a donation. Probably several.
Indeed, Republicans can afford to lose this seat more than the Tea Party can.
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