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A Political Obituary

"Republican Party Dead at Age 156:  Party of Lincoln Succumbs to Palinitis After Lengthy Battle for Soul"

After last night's primary results, a part of me truly expected to see a headline of this sort in this morning's newspaper.  For those of you who haven't yet heard the news, Tea Party activist Christine O'Donnell has apparently won the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, completing a remarkable run of Tea Party insurgencies that had already toppled party establishment candidates in several states, including Kentucky, Nevada, Alaska, and Florida.  That Joe Miller, Rand Paul, Mark Rubio, and Sharron Angle are actually in position to claim seats in the United States Senate is enough to boggle the mind.  But as far as I'm concerned, the victory of Christine O'Donnell over Mike Castle in the Delaware race truly signals the end of the GOP as we know it.

Mike Castle has served the people of Delaware for more than two decades.  In a state that revels in its small-scale retail politics, Castle was nearly as much of an icon as Vice President Joe Biden.  He was first elected to the State Assembly in 1966, served as Lieutenant Governor and then Governor during the 1980s and early 1990s, and has represented the state in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993, making him the longest serving Congressman in Delaware's history.  As Delaware has trended more and more toward the Democratic Party (the state used to be a bellweather, voting with the winner of every Presidential election between 1948 and 1996; but it has become a reliably blue state since then), Castle has remained one of its most popular politicians.  When he announced that he would give up his House seat to run for Joe Biden's Senate seat this year, everyone assumed that he would coast to victory in the primaries and the general election.

But Tea Party activism and Sarah Palin's late endorsement lifted Christine O'Donnell to a surprising victory last night, confounding those expectations.  Who is O'Donnell?  Well, she's a young, telegenic, Christian fundamentalist, who has been accused by one of her former campaign managers of misusing campaign funds for personal expenses.  More to the point, she is utterly out of step with rank and file voters in Delaware on most major issues.  And really this is the point.

The decision Delaware's Republican voters made last night defies explanation.  Before last night, Republicans still had a chance to win back control of the Senate, and Mike Castle was a key player in their strategy.  He was as close to a sure win as the GOP had in any Blue state.  O'Donnell, on the other hand, has virtually no chance of winning the general election.  But Castle is one of the last of a dying breed.  He is a moderate Republican.  And we know how Tea party activists feel about them.  O'Donnell's defeat of Castle was a triumph of ideological purity over political pragmatism, a vote for political confrontation and continued gridlock, and a rejection of responsible governance.

As a partisan Democrat, I welcome O'Donnell's victory.  She will be beaten in November.  Mark Rubio will, I believe, lose the three-way race in Florida.  Rand Paul may well lose the Kentucky race, which should have been a lock for Republicans, and Sharron Angle may well lose to Harry Reid in Nevada, in another race that should have been an easy GOP win.  The partisan in me celebrates every Tea Party win, because each one improves the chances of Democrat success in November.  But as an American, and a believer in the two party system, I find the implosion of the Republican Party alarming.

Don't get me wrong.  I look forward to seeing the Democrats ascendant for the next generation or two.  But American democracy works best when there are two viable, big-tent parties governing in Washington.  Right now there is only one.  I am sometimes driven up the wall by so-called moderate Democrats -- the Blanche Lincolns and Mary Landrieuxs and Ben Nelsons -- who vote against the party line almost as often as they vote with it.  But I recognize that by making themselves the big-tent party, the Democrats have positioned themselves for decades of electoral success. But while Democrats have expanded their base, conservative activists in the GOP have purged the party of nearly all its moderates.  Mike Castle might be the last of them, and after last night, he's through.  Once upon a time the party was home to some truly great public servants -- Everett Dirksen and Margaret Chase Smith, Howard Baker and Mark Hatfield, Lowell Weicker, Nancy Kassebaum, and Chuck Hagel.  These were men and women who were willing to set aside partisanship in order to pass meaningful legislation.  They were pragmatists rather than ideologues.  Today, they would have no home in the GOP.  I probably wouldn't have voted for them, but I always respected them, and I respected many of their more conservative colleagues, who were also willing to work with political opponents in order to get things done.

I'm not saying that Republicans won't do well in November.  No doubt they'll take back handfuls of House seats, perhaps enough to put the Speaker's gavel in John Boehner's hand for a couple of years.  And they'll cut into the Democratic Senate majority.  Going forward they'll have a few good election cycles; they'll still win the Presidency now and again.  But by embracing the Tea Party, by allowing themselves to be hijacked by Sarah Palin and her followers, they have limited themselves ideologically, racially, socially, and electorally.  Between 1896 and 1928, the Democrats won two Presidential elections (Woodrow Wilson's election and reelection).  Two out of nine.  Between 1932 and 1964, Republicans won two elections (Eisenhower's two victories).  Two out of nine.  Between 1968 and 2004, Democrats won three elections (Carter, Clinton twice).  Three out of ten.

This is what the Republicans have in store for the next generation.  They are about to embark on a long, tortuous trek through the political wilderness, and they have no one to blame but themselves.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 15th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
I agree that the lower the turnout, the greater the danger of unusual, even alarming election results. Which is why we need to get people out to vote.
Sep. 16th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
Low turnout worries me also -- the disappointment many liberals (including me) feel about Obama and his administration's performance may well lead to some people who would vote Democratic staying home, while those in sympathy with the Tea Party are obviously energized for this one.

We may be surprised by the general election sending more of the Tea Party candidates to Washington than we think.
Sep. 16th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
You and I are usually pretty well in synch on this kind of stuff, Steve, but I have to say that I am bewildered by those on the left who say they are disappointed in Obama. I just don't see it. Has he been perfect? No, of course not. But he has had to deal with political, economic, and foreign policy circumstances that are almost mind-bogglingly difficult; he has been stymied again and again by a deeply hostile Republican minority; and he has been forced to rely on a completely gutless Democratic leadership structure in Congress that has made matters even worse. Should he have come out earlier and stronger with his own health care plan? Yes, probably so. But in other areas I really am not sure what else he could do.

That said, yeah, turnout scares me, too....
Sep. 16th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
I think there's a lot to be disappointed with. Perhaps I was naive about him: I saw him as potentially a great leader who, given majorities in both the Senate and the House, would push liberal ideals through.

Instead, he's shown me that he's neither a true liberal or a leader with strength. Take the BO oil disaster: happened on April 20, and anyone with half a brain knew that it was a terrific disaster. He goes golfing instead of to the Gulf. He doesn't even have a press conference until May 27, and doesn't address the nation until mid-June. Meanwhile, you have every southern governor calling for federal aid and coordination. After the lesson of Bush and Katrina, he showed that it doesn't matter who's in the White House -- the federal government doesn't give a damn.

After rhetoric about how we need to get out of Iraq and Afghantistan, after his votes against the wars, we're still s-l-o-w-l-y steeping away from Iraq, and we're escalating in Afghanistan. From the signs I see, he's following Bush's footsteps in fouling up Afghanistan.

With the economy, the stimulus package he put through was a safe, conservative, middle-of-the-road effort, when the economy needed a much stronger kick in the pants, one way or the other: either much more stimulus money, or a defiant none at all. And there still aren't regulations in place to be certain that the greed and avarice of those who caused the Great Recession don't send us into another quick spiral down.

Health care: too little, too weak a piece of legislation, and he didn't push it the way a strong leader should have. He let Congress f*ck it up with partisanship, infighting, and same-as-usual politicking.

Gay rights: Obama is maddeningly and suspiciously quiet on that topic. A strong liberal leader would be pushing hard to legalize gay marriage, to get gay rights legislation through. He doesn't say a word... and frankly, I suspect that he may be just as happy if gay rights stays off the radar. And despite his promise, "Don't ask, don't tell" is still the way the military works.

Guantanamo was going to be closed in the first few months of his term, he told us, and the prisoners given fair trials or released. It's still open, and we haven't seen the promised trials.

You called Congress "gutless" and I agree, but I feel that "gutless" also described Obama. I think he's weak and ineffective, he's squandered all the huge political capital he came in with, and I suspect he's far less 'left' than I believed him to be. I worked locally for his campaign; unless I see drastic changes in his governing style and his actions in the next few years, I won't work for him in the next election. I'll vote, and I'll vote for him over anyone I can see the Republicans putting up, but I won't vote with enthusiasm. I doubt that anyone will challenge Obama for the candidacy after one term, but I'd like to see that.
Sep. 17th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)
I think you're being a little rough on him with respect to BP. It actually wasn't clear at the beginning just how bad the spill was, because BP kept on obfuscating -- fudging the numbers, claiming that they had it under control, and then finally admitting that they were in way over their heads. Fox News tried to spin the disaster as "Obama's Katrina" but the facts tell a different story.

I wish he was moving quicker on Afghanistan, too, and I wish he'd taken more troops out of Iraq and done it faster. I'm sure he felt that he'd be opening himself up to attacks from the right if anything happened after a rapid withdrawal, but he should have acted more boldly.

On the stimulus, I don't see how he could have done more. Yes, it should have been bigger, but there we were in the middle of an economic meltdown, with people like Krugman screaming (correctly) for a much bigger package, and still he barely had the votes to get it through. This, more than any other issue, is where Dems in Congress failed him. But I can't blame him for that.

Health care, he moved too slowly, plain and simple. And he gave too much control to Baucus.

Gay rights, you're completely right.

Guantanamo is another instance where the right was poised to attack him. And I wonder what intelligence he gets to see that we don't.

I would argue though, that he has actually accomplished a great deal. The stimulus wasn't enough, but there is undeniable evidence that it has helped. The health reform bill is weak, but it's been more than 40 years in the making. He did more than any other President in two generations. The Wall Street bill isn't perfect, but it's going to make a difference, particularly now that he's going to make Elizabeth Warren his the consumer protection administrator. He put two fine justices on the bench and passed children's health insurance, the equal pay bill, the credit card reform bill -- there's more, but I can't remember every bill. But he has had more accomplishments in less than two years than most Presidents have in a full term.

I remember after the 2004 election Dubya actually increased his majorities in both houses, and I despaired, thinking that now he'd be able to pass everything on his terrible agenda. He hardly got anything done. It's not easy being President, and I think that Obama is actually off to a good start.
Sep. 17th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
"I think that Obama is actually off to a good start."

THe proof will come later, but I hope you're right. :-)
Sep. 17th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I think you're humoring me. We can discuss this further over beers when we're in Columbus.
Sep. 15th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
Rove what have you wrought eh?

And, no matter the outcome the rationalization will be to be more conservative. If they win, they will justify the crazy. If they lose, they will justify it and decide they're just not quite crazy enough yet...

The problem they have is that for a majority of the policies of the GOP alone...America has rejected them. Top that off with a dose of Beckian/Evangelical/When I think about you I (don't) touch myself (h/t Divinyls) and you get the modern GOP.

Still, they can't have it both ways. The Tea Party is 95% disgruntled, reactionary Republicans who think Jim DeMint somehow just isn't conservative enough... IOW: There isn't a 'Tea Party' and a "Republican Party'. They're one and the same.

After 30 years of this, I'm amazed that there are people still willing to vote for them. Oh yeah, guess using the term "Obamacare" sent them right into a fear spiral and made them forget where the GOP is now. It ain't my father's GOP...which would have been a plus except where they actually took the party. Thanks Newt!
Sep. 16th, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
Agreed. Demagoguery will let them chalk up a few wins, including this fall. But I really do believe that the GOP is digging its own grave.
Sep. 16th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
Don't be too confident. Every Republican will line up behind O'Donnell in the end--they'll take crazy over "socialism" any day. The head of the Delaware Republican Party just endorsed her as has Michael Steele. They ALWAYS close ranks.
Sep. 16th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
True, Helen. But in Delaware, having the GOP behind her isn't enough. Not nearly. Castle was favored to win because he could capture independent and Democratic votes. She can't.
Sep. 16th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC)
Well, let's hope so. But I don't know if that can be said for other places running crazies like Nevada and Alaska (oops, sorry Stephen).
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 16th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
I agree. This all began to turn during the Reagan years, and it accelerated under Dubya.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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