The Washington Times invited me to write a column today to discuss Mike Castle’s refusal to endorse Christine O’Donnell after yesterday’s primary, but the problems we saw in the hours after the results became clear go far beyond Mike Castle. The Republican Party establishment and the center-right commentariat have no problem lecturing conservatives when it comes to unifying behind establishment candidates that win primaries — and conservatives have had no problem uniting for the sake of a Republican nominee in a general election. However, when given a chance at reciprocity this year, and not just in Delaware, the establishment figures have a poor record of getting behind the candidate chosen by the Republican voters in the states. The GOP is in danger of becoming the Sore Loser Party and destroying its credibility with grass-roots activists in the process:
Clearly, though, that public show of support for primaries hides a scorn for the actual idea of voters selecting a candidate for themselves, a scorn exposed by the Tea Party in this cycle. One reason for the growth of Tea Party activism is precisely the kind of disconnected, elitist and condescending attitude toward voters in the Republican Party that results in the selection of candidates like Mike Castle in Delaware. In a midterm cycle where both liberals and establishment figures have as much attraction as big-government proposals like cap-and-trade, the national Republican establishment prompted the liberal Mr. Castle to abandon his safe House seat and run for the open Senate seat left vacant by Joe Biden‘s election as vice president. Not only did they hand-select Mr. Castle, whose support of cap-and-trade and the DISCLOSE Act made him particularly suspect, the party then attacked a Republican who dared to challenge him for the seat.
The national GOP ran this playbook earlier in the cycle, too. In Florida, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) immediately endorsed Charlie Crist for the Senate nomination, even though the speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio, had already announced his intention to run for the spot. Mr. Crist tried tying himself to President Obama in 2009, traveling with him throughout the state to promote the stimulus package that utterly failed to prevent the loss of millions of jobs. The establishment tried to pressure Mr. Rubio to quit, and then watched as he not only clobbered Mr. Crist on the campaign trail, but also as their favored establishment candidate bailed out of the party and criticized theGOP.
Voters across the country have sent a clear message of real change, and the party establishment’s embrace of Mr. Castle and Mr. Cristshowed that the leadership simply refused to listen. Even that problem should have been solved by the primaries. After all, as the Republican Party has demanded so often of its conservative membership when their favored candidates lose, the need to rally behind the nominee should trump all other concerns. Surely they would adhere to their own process when the voters choose other candidates, right?
Wrong. Mr. Castle refused to endorse the winner and, initially, the NRSCleaked that it wouldn’t support winner Christine O’Donnell, either. That decision was wisely reversed by the NRSC chairman, Sen. John Cornyn, the next morning. Mr. Crist, who had pledged to remain in theRepublican Party in March, defected a month later after watching his poll numbers plummet, before voters even had the chance to make a decision. Lisa Murkowski lost a primary challenge for her Senate seat in Alaska and may announce this week that she will run a write-in campaign instead, despite the fact that Republican voters rejected her earlier. Robert F. Bennett contemplated the same idea in Utah before finally acquiescing to the reality that he had lost the confidence of his constituents after three terms in the Senate.
The GOP has made the “rules” of primaries clear. The primaries are the manner in which voters hold candidates accountable for their records. After the voters make their choice, though, the debate is supposed to be over. The GOP has demanded loyalty from various constituencies at the end of the process, in which incumbents or anointed candidates such as Castle almost invariably win.
Suddenly, though, those rules don’t apply to the GOP establishment — or at least the establishment seemed ready to reject them yesterday. That’s precisely the same kind of elitist attitude that Americans get from Washington DC, and why the Tea Party exists in the first place. A day later, at least a few Republicans seemed to grasp that, including Senator John Cornyn and Michael Steele. If the rest don’t learn the lesson that DocZero gives in today’s post about bottom-up change instead of top-down diktats, the GOP establishment may be positioning itself for irrelevance in the long run.
Update: My friend AJ Strata offers a thoughtful rebuttal in the comments that I’d like to answer, because it seems I need to clarify my point somewhat:
I agree with you to some degree, the coming shake up for the Political Industrial Complex has the complex’s inhabitants in a foul mood.
But I think there was something else going on in DE. Yes, O’Donnell won fair and square and is the nominee. But anyone who extends problems/concerns with candidate O’Donnell to the broader Tea Party movement is being ridiculous. I, for one, have enjoyed each one of the Tea Party’s successes and stand behind all their candidates without hesitation – except this one.
O’Donnell no more reflects the Tea Party than anyone else. She was one of two poor candidate choices in DE. Neither Castle nor O’Donnell are good options.
So you can have heart burn about O’Donnell the individual without having any issues with the Tea Party or grass roots conservatives.
True — but that’s an argument for the primary. In fact, I acknowledged on Tuesday morning that both sides had a good argument, and that I thought reasonable people could choose either side. But the primary is over. Delaware Republicans chose their nominee. The party’s role should be to elect the nominee, and the emphasis on unifying behind the nominee should be applied whether the establishment favorite wins or loses. What good does it do now to continue debating O’Donnell vs Castle? Is the GOP enabling a Fiorina vs DeVore argument in California? Of course not, nor should they, and they should be getting to work in Delaware, too.