Tuesday's primary election results completed a sequence of remarkable results for far-right activists, working within the Republican party, to remove those whose devotion to extremism, in word and deed, was insufficient.
The most significant result was in the tiny state of Delaware, where a turnout of some 50 thousand Republicans resulted in a major result: the moderate Republican, William Castle, whose success in the general election was considered a foregone conclusion, was nosed out by a political novice, Christine O'Donnell, a sweet young thing whose opinions are pretty batty.
Delaware is an interesting state politically, quite different from neighboring Maryland, and a good example of how the federal system gives added power to small privileged populations. Because of certain state laws, many American companies are chartered there, and the state has successfully established itself as an attractive site for operations centers, for banks in particular. The resulting prevailing political philosophy has been socially moderate, but very supportive of strengthened central government and of large companies' needs.
Joe Biden--who held the seat in contention for 36 years--learned long ago to fit himself into these tendencies, and Castle represented them well, too. O'Donnell does not fit, and so her nomination moves the Senate race from one with a 15-point Republican lead to one where Democratic nominee Chris Coons is 10 points or so ahead. There is still a race to be run, albeit a short one, but the net result is that the Tea Party rebellion against has likely turned a sure Republican pickup into a loss.
Thus far, the net effect of TP seems to be advancing what I would call the Whig Project: the effort to make George W. Bush the 21st-century Millard Fillmore--the last President of his party.
Havanutha Cuppa?It may seem strange that this movement which has revitalized the party--albeit from the outside, in what one of their generals, Dick Armey, aptly has called a "hostile takeover"--and led to much stronger turnout for the primary elections, seeming to have brought the party to the verge of regaining control of the House, that the Tea Party would be a contributor to the party's near demise, but that's the hope and that's how I see this playing out.
In the short run, the Republicans get tea-bagger candidates for key Senate contests like Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron "Right" Angle in Nevada, and O'Donnell in Delaware. Others, like Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who barely survived a challenge from the right on Tuesday, have been forced far to the right to fend off the TP threat; Ayotte's lead in polls for the general election contest has been sharply reduced. Ken Buck in Colorado has found the birther army's support to be problematic, and he also finds himself in a tough race.
Those two may survive the brush with the thick white stuff, and Tea Party rebel candidates may yet survive in rightist-tending states like Alaska and Utah. However, the general pattern of the primary season would have to make moderate Republicans wonder what they are doing in such a narrow and vindictive tent, and independents--who on the whole may be receptive to the idea of balancing off Democratic political power in this election--will have to swallow hard and close their eyes before selecting some of these flaky right-wingers.
If the Republicans succeed in TP'ing the House just after Halloween, they may find this to be a Pyrrhic victory, just as they did their victory led by Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America in 1994. Rather than castigating the Bushites for having governed as incompetent, statist, civil liberty-denying, tools of the military-industrial complex, they choose to oppose them on the dubious ground of having been too accommodating to the Obama administration. As if! Much as independents' desires might include a reduction in the level of Federal government activity, the post-'94 history suggests they will not reward an attempt to shut things down, either--particularly if the economic weakness continues.
In the longer run, running against a Tea Party national candidate in 2012 would seem to be a dream scenario for President Obama and the Democrats. If the extremist Republican primary takeover model is not discredited by the 2010 general election results, it's possible it could repeat in the national party nomination process. Sarah Palin could easily pull off a caucus coup in Iowa, survive New Hampshire and win South Carolina, then use the momentum to win the nomination. Such a result could cause a politically-disastrous split in the party, and would regardless suggest a massive Democratic win.
It's a gamble, I recognize. First, Democrats could become overconfident in this year's races; second, the country would be damaged by a Congressional takeover by reincarnated John Birchers. Then, if somehow it were possible that Palin & Co. could win--and the Electoral College makes all kinds of undemocratic outcomes possible--we would be looking an unprecedented disaster in the face, even worse than Bushite Misrule.