McCain’s not that weak and Palin’s not that strong

Overall, Republicans captured six Senate seats previously held by Democrats—in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Five of these six victors (all except Senator-elect Ron Johnson in Wisconsin) are long-time office-holders identified with the Republican establishment, not Tea Party insurgents. Only one of the successful Senate takeovers (the victory of John Boozman in Arkansas) occurred with the support of Sarah Palin.

Her most celebrated victors – Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida – won their contests in states where Republicans already held the Senate seats, so hardly demonstrated a broadening of the Republican base or an extension of the party’s geographic reach…

Republicans who hope to build on recent successes for further triumphs in the future need to reject two utterly false and dangerously misleading conclusions: that “constitutional conservatives” with Tea Party support will win every time (or even most of the time), and that veteran office-holders with more moderate records will lose every important contest. As the nineteenth century humorist Josh Billings sagely observed: “It aint so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.”