Well, it’s been at best a difficult week for the so-called Republican Party establishment. Not only is there much wailing and gnashing of teeth at Christine O’Donnell’s Delaware victory, but one local blogger has taken her time to blast the local establishment as well. I’ll get to her in a minute.
Even before the polls were closed in Delaware, though, there were those who bemoaned the lost opportunity in Delaware since Mike Castle was defeated in his bid to become the caretaker Senator from the First State. Normally I like Hans Bader and his writing, but I have to disagree with his whinefest on this one. Most tellingly he writes:
People who think the country is conservative beneath the surface — or even firmly “center-right” — are living in a bubble, just like the Obama supporters were deluding themselves when they came to the conclusion that the country had become staunchly liberal just because Obama won in 2008 based on the bad economy.
The problem with Bader’s theory is that conservatism is the leading ideological identifier, according to polling data. Yet there always seems to be this tug-of-war between various factions of what can be termed “mainstream” Republicans like Bader who accept that having the party label is more important than principle, against those in the Tea Party Express Bader slams because they remain ideologically purer to conservative principles.
Bader is correct in saying the Obama supporters were deluding themselves, but that’s simply because the country is more right than left – unfortunately those on the right were let down when a centrist candidate was nominated. It was a selection process based to a large extent by primary voters in open primary states and the mainstream media cheerleaders who backed John McCain until the moment he picked the much more conservative Governor Sarah Palin. Ironically, that was the point where McCain peaked and briefly led in the polls.
As events play out, the race may not matter for control of the Senate anyway and there’s no guarantee Christine O’Donnell won’t pull off the shocker in November as she did last week. Before the beginning of September and the Tea Party Express getting involved, no one gave O’Donnell a shot at making it this far nor was the Senate even deemed in play earlier this year – most pundits saw the possibilities as perhaps a 52-48 or 53-47 Democratic edge. But in the eyes of many conservatives, 50-50 with Biden being the tiebreaking vote is better than 51-49 but always having to worry whether Castle would sell out. Such a scenario would likely prove the Democrats who demanded equality in a similar situation under President Bush a decade ago as complete hypocrites now when they deny the GOP that same parity.
Yet the Tea Party vs. establishment battle roils closer to home as well.
Obviously one could consider Julie Brewington’s diatribe against the state Americans for Prosperity chapter and the local Republican Party a serious case of sour grapes since she finished last in a four-person field. She describes herself as “too trusting” of certain people who “used me,” especially when she bucked the trend and supported the more conservative candidate for Governor, Brian Murphy (as did I.) Except for myself and another current member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, she takes aim at party leadership and some of my fellow local bloggers as well. At least one time in the past I advised Julie to grow a little thicker skin, but in this case she makes some very valid points.
There has always been that undercurrent of conservatism locally, and the GOP has been the beneficiary of it for nearly a quarter-century. The last time a Democratic candidate for Governor or President carried Wicomico County was in 1986, and William Donald Schaefer could neither be described as a very liberal Democrat nor did he have much opposition from an extremely weak GOP candidate. Oftentimes we get the benefit from a pocket of Democrats who are simply DINOs and vote mostly Republican tickets on Election Day. This year the good climate for the GOP was manifested by the number of candidates under our banner for local seats, including the Central Committee.
Yet those voters we depend on to carry us despite our disadvantage in registrations are the same ones being alienated by the games being played by establishment Republicans. Trying to tilt the playing field to benefit certain candidates shouldn’t be the job of the state party, and all candidates should be treated with respect. I know there are some who don’t like our current leadership (that line doesn’t start with Julie) but now we’ll enter a new era with a few new players – the leader of the local AFP chapter, a longtime county activist, and the person behind “Conservatives for Maryland.” (I have to scratch my head at the Ehrlich backing by that group though; then again, when the lead local person for Bob runs the group I guess you get a few compromises.) Of the seven who were elected in 2006, it appears just four of us will survive to begin this term.
Yet there will be a particular dynamic to our group which has the potential to discourage the Tea Party from further involvement. Enough of the old guard and (perhaps) tea party skeptics remain that the struggle for leadership may be real and damaging. Obviously this group will back the Republicans who survived the 2010 primary (and it’s a very potent group) but once the state reorganization begins it’s anyone’s guess which way we will go. I doubt that on that front we will be as united as some may desire – I sense there will be profound differences among us.
Having said that, though, we need people like Julie Brewington to keep us honest. What we don’t need, though, is to have all of our dirty laundry aired in public. Sunlight is a great disinfectant but it also makes certain things fade over time, and we need to keep those new political recruits we’ve gained in the conservative movement within the Tea Party in the bold colors they represent. We tried the pale pastels over the last decade and see where they got us.
While the Tea Party exists without a strong inside leader, those within the Republican Party need to take the elephant by the tusks and work on reforming the state party so it better reflects the conservatism of its members.
But we also need to be teachers and present alternatives to the statism we see in Annapolis and Washington. The ‘party of no’ can work for now but we need to become the party of limited-government alternatives once we secure leadership positions. If someone like Mike Castle was going to simply present a slower drift toward statism, it’s best he lost and the job of Delaware Republicans should be to teach the voters that having an advocate for limiting government is in their best interest.
It should be our job as well.