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I suppose that we have to talk about O'Donnell

Submitted by Simon on Wed, 09/15/2010 - 12:40pm

Last night, tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell beat moderate Mike Castle to win Delaware GOP's nomination for the U.S. Senate. This approaches unmitigated disaster, as the party has been quick to realize, although O'Donnell's supporters seem oblivious to the reality that they just threw away a winnable Senate seat for no reason.

I have nothing against O'Donnell (who seems orthodox and pleasant—winsome, even—if a little callow), and I have no particular fondness for Mike Castle, but my political preferences would be of little relevance if I lived in Delaware, and are of none at all since I do not. What is relevant is the political reality of the state. Delaware voted 62% for Obama. It voted for Kerry, Gore, and Clinton both times. Excepting Mike Castle, the last Republican to win a statewide election there was Bill Roth—who would not pass tea party scrutiny—in 1994, and I don’t know when the last time one won a first statewide election (as opposed to reelection, with all the advantages of incumbency). The last Republican elected as governor of Delaware was Castle—in 1984. Democrats enjoy a 3:2 voter registration advantage. The idea that this a red state in waiting, ready to flip if we would just nominate a real conservative—who are we kidding?

This is not a state that we are bound to lose no matter who we nominate; if that were the case, sure, if we have nothing to lose, nominate a Goldwater, make a statement. Likewise, this is not a state where we are going to win no matter who we nominate, so we do not have the freedom of picking whichever candidate strikes us as best. The kicker is that we could have won Delaware, but threw it away for no reason: We now have a true conservative candidate with zero crossover appeal in a state where only 38% of the electorate are registered Republicans. How do you suppose this will work out for us?

O'Donnell's supporters are quick to raise Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts special election earlier this year, but the comparison is inapt. If we had nominated a vulnerable firebrand like O’Donnell there, we’d have lost that one, too. Instead, we nominated a very presentable moderate who fit the mood of the electorate. What’s more, Brown benefited from circumstances that won't obtain in Delaware. His opponent, was weak in every possible way, and while it wasn’t exactly a single-issue election, there was a widespread belief that the election was a referendum on stopping Obamacare, an issue on which a majority of Massachusetts voters—not just Republicans—shared Brown's opposition. By contrast, Democrats are pretty happy with the bulk of the Obama agenda, as you would expect; if Coons defends them, he may make the tea party—a subset of Republicans, who are in turn a minority subset of the electorate—madder and madder, but he’s not going to help us. These aren’t issues that will lead to aisle-crossing in the way that benefited Brown in January.

Another canard is that we have nothing to lose because Castle is a RINO, that he's not a conservative or a Republican in good standing. People who make that argument are living in another world. Their mistake is to see “bad” as an arbitrary line beyond which there are no gradations, just an undifferentiated miasma of “bad.” But that’s silly. Barney Franks, for example, is objectively worse than Mike Castle. Castle had a 52% lifetime average ACU rating, and that is dismal, but it is stellar compared to what Chris “Marxist with a beard” Coons will get. Castle may not have voted with us some of the time, but Coons will vote against us virtually all of the time.

Elections are zero-sum games: the better candidate wins, or the worse candidate wins. Period. If we want conservative principles to be a real governing force, we have to follow Buckley's counsel: pick the most conservative candidate who is also electable. It gains us nothing to throw away a real chance of victory for a purer loser, and the times are too serious, the issues too big, the stakes too high, to give in to such childish petulance. If, however, we want to sit on the sidelines throwing popcorn and yelling, nominating non-viable candidates is a great way to do it.

O'Donnell supporters are quick to say that she could turn it around, that defeat isn't a foregone conclusion. In doing so, however, they sound like nothing so much as our Democratic friends who insist that they can turn it around and keep the House (or, worst of all, Blanche Lincoln, whose apparent belief that she can dig herself out of an even deeper hole than O'Donnell's borders on delusional). Could it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Nope. I think that the fundamentals of this race are very unlikely to change in the next seven weeks.

Yes, I fear the Dems keeping the House is a lost cause at this

point, although our chances to keep the Senate just got a little brighter. :-) Seriously, though, I stand amazed at how the conservative base saw fit to basically throw away a virtual lock, just to purge a so-called RINO. O'Donnell seems like a nice person, but does she have a concrete policy agenda at all?

Purity or else

ditto. But I've been paying attention to Instapundit and - more specifically - Hot Air. It seems that if you are not what they consider pure conservative, you're not at all. They did this to McCain during the 2008 race. To me, it was as annoying as the Bash Bush Brigade.

Also,I don't see many of these tea party candidates have experience in the political field. They have no clue about the sausage factory Congress is, nor the demands people will put on the. If and when they do, they will have to bend. The world, esp the US does not see everything the way they do. And when they have to compromise, some tp-ers will feel betrayed.


I think the most recent

I think the most recent Democratic parallel to this dynamic was the 2006 Connecticut Senate race-- the energized anti-war subset of the Democratic Party purged themselves of a pro-war DINO (Joe Lieberman) in favor of a candidate (Ned Lamont) who was so outside the general electorate mainstream that Lieberman was able to run as an indepenent and still win the election.

Not a perfect analogy, of course, because Lieberman continued to caucus with the Democrats, and politically, they didn't lose a seat. But then no analogy is perfect. In any case, the lesson many conservative commentators thought they had learned after that primary was that the emerging progressive movement (including the new media, blogs) was so fringe that they would be successful only at undermining organized Democratic efforts. By the general election and certainly in 2008, because the Republicans refused to recognize popular discontent and failed to heed public opinion, they faced a defeat of epic proportions.

A lot of liberal commentators are crowing right now about how the Tea Party has only succeeded in undermining the Republican effort. That may very well be true right now and in this particular instance, but I would submit that refusing to acknowledge popular discontent with a large swath of their programs and policies is only going to cost them-- enormously--in 2012, if they don't right the ship. If 2011 looks like 2009, they are going to be in serious trouble in 2012.


The Lieberman analogy is pretty useful here, as well as the

warning to the Dems not to ignore the popular discontent. I think Obama is really going to have to have pinpoint focus on the economy, and start doing bigger things with regards to the deficit, and the debt.

Don't quite agree that Lieberman is analogous

Lieberman was very sui generis. He clearly identified a key policy area, national security, in which he disagreed strongly, as a matter of principle, with his party and his primary opponent. He ran on that difference, as well as his general past service in the Senate. He carefully articulated the substantive policy distinctions he had. He is, in fact, a hard core Democrat in all areas save for foreign policy and national security.

Castle shows no signs, that I've seen, of being able to carefully articulate the principled reasons he votes opposite from most of his party across a wide spectrum of issues. He doesn't seem to have identified where on the political continuum he lies. Lieberman easily characterized himself as a "Scoop Jackson Democrat." To me, that's what distinguishes Lieberman's run as an independent from those of more opportunistic politicians (in my view) such as Charlie Crist, and from the general sore losers like Lisa Murkowski and Mike Castle.

Well yes, Lieberman is a liberal hawk, who deviated from party

orthodoxy on Iraq, and the Party sided with the base, and sold him out (although not completely). The analogy isn't perfecrt, but from what I understand, Castle was a reliable moderate Republican, who basically was targeted because he wanted to compromise on cap-and-trade--that is, the fact that he wanted to work with the other side, made him a target. It's not a perfect analogy, but there are similarities. What I mean is, Lieberman always was a centrist Democrat who was known to break with party orthodoxy in the past, but on the core issues he was a solid Dem. I could be wrong, but Castle seemed like a solid Republican, moderate sure, but I mean was his record that bad, that conservatives were willing to basically throw away a solid shot?

BTW, I do think Dems need to take this race seriously, and not gloat just yet. I think our chances improved greatly (in Delaware at least), but anything can happen.

Yeah, I would note that my

Yeah, I would note that my analogy wasn't actually referring to the similarities and differences between the individuals, at all. Rather my analogy was about the perception among each wing's respective commentators (during their respective dominant time under the sun) that the primary victory represented not an early warning of public disenchantment with the Administration, but a demonstration of how the energetic emerging movements (whether the anti-war progressives or the Tea Party conservatives) undermined their opposition because they were so "fringe." That was how the GOP viewed the Lamont victory in 2006, it's how the Democrats are viewing the O'Donnell victory in 2010.

Of course other aspects of the two are quite different, but that's not really the point I was trying to make, and certainly is beyond the scope of an analogy's explanatory power. When demonstrating how apples are similar to oranges in terms of shape or growth, one is (hopefully) not trying to "prove" that apples are oranges, because that's an exercise in futility.


handful of lesson spots

I expect there will be a small handful of tea party "lesson spots" where the too-fringey candidate loses, in some cases costing the GOP a win. The Tea Party doesn't seem to be about earning and compromising though, anymore than any other populist movement.

But Bobby is right, the democrats have to be silly to be blithe or dismissive about popular dissatisfaction. Although I expect Obama to buck the trend in 2012 unless the GOP comes up with a substantive candidate. Chris Christie?

A note from MA. I think that Charlie Baker has a REALLY good chance of beating Deval Patrick. Baker feels like a Bill Weld clone, one of the last of the likable Rockerfeller-type Republicans who were rendered nearly extinct by the last anti-RINO wave.

Despite what the tea party seem to suggest as the right way forward for the GOP (fiscally conservative and socially conservative), I think there's much more potential popularity for a brand that's fiscally responsible and socially moderate. In other words, somewhat more concerned with balanced budgets and entitlement control than capital gains taxes and top bracket rates. And not interested in carrying the flag for either wing on social issues. But maybe that's just me.

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