Michael Wolraich's picture

    What's the Matter with Delaware? What Christine O'Donnell's Victory Means for America's Future

    Almost one year ago, I wrote a post titled What's the Matter with New York? about the fierce battle between moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava and fringe conservative Doug Hoffman to represent New York's 23rd congressional district. Scozzafava dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democratic candidate, who prevailed in the election.

    The title of that article alluded to Thomas Frank's influential book What's the Matter with Kansas, which documented the bitter "Mod" vs. "Con" conflict in Kansas during the 1990s from which the Cons ultimately emerged supreme. That conflict has since played out across the country. After Hoffman defeated Scozzafava, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs observed, "If you look at what I think is likely to happen next year, you already have Republicans -- some Republicans who are more aligned with the very conservative element of what's happening in New York saying, this is a model for what you'll see throughout the country."

    These words were prophetic. From Florida to Alaska, North Carolina to Colorado, Tea Party backed Cons have knocked out establishment Mods at almost every turn. The latest Con victory took place in Delaware, as abstinence activist Christine O'Donnell defeated the moderate nine-term representative Mike Castle by six percentage points in the senate primary.

    Some liberals have cheered the success of fringe conservatives like O'Donnell because their victories will help Democrats retain critical seats, and indeed O'Donnell will almost certainly lose to Democrat Chris Coons in November. But the celebration is shortsighted. Last year, Democrats applauded Doug Hoffman's victory in NY-23, which ultimately gave the Democratic party an extra House seat. But Hoffman's success energized the nascent Tea Party movement, which has since mobilized millions of conservative voters who will contribute to an expected Democratic rout in November.

    Likewise, the Republican civil war in Kansas did not cripple the state party. It emerged more powerful and unified than ever, and the Kansas Cons soon exported their success across country, contributing to twelve long years of Republican legislative dominance in Washington, first under Newt Gingrich and later under Tom DeLay, both of whom owe their support to the conservative faction. And as I have described in previous posts, the Republican party has gone through a series of civil wars and purges since the 1970s. In each case, short term losses have given way to long term political power under increasingly demagogic and right-wing firebrands who have been extraordinarily successful at mobilizing voters and unifying Republican legislators.

    So rather than celebrating Tea Party successes, Democrats should drop the champagne glasses, jump to attention, and urgently seek an answer to the question, "What's the Matter with America?"

    My book on right-wing paranoia, Blowing Smoke, will be published in October. For links and updates, click the I Like button on the book's fan page.



    You've put into words what has been bugging me every time I read that a win for the Tea Party candidate is good for Dems.

    I think those we see as tea-baggers and birthers are a large part of the core republicans have relied upon to sweep them into office. Of course, the pot was always sweetened to the taste of whatever fringe group being placated. Unfortunately for the republicans, the fringe began to get restless once they knew the republicans had the power to push thru their agendas. By 2006 and the end of republican reign in Congress, they realized all their faith in the GOP was for nothing. So began the exodus creating splinter groups of like-minded conservatives hell-bent on making sure their agendas got center stage this time around. Interesting to note, none of the splinter groups have anything in common with Democrats and I suspect Progressives...they're strictly hard-core conservative republicans with a single agenda they want made into law. Now we come to this election cycle.

    It is interesting to see so many fringe elements for the republican party wrapped up in myths of what they perceive to be the truth. And that they never understood about simple politics that if you don't cross all your T's, both large and small, and dot your all your little i's and j's too, there will be ample legal wiggle room to make legislation ineffective. In short, politics isn't for the lazy or those looking for a quick fix. It's a time consuming and thought provoking exercise in thinking up all the what if scenarios and determining the exact words to nullify any attempt to reinterpret the intent of the legislation. But many tea-bagger readily claim they had considerable trouble, if not out right failure, to grasped those concepts in their high school civics and government courses. But they have the power of the lever at the ballot box.

    This whole tea-bagger movement is based on the failure of the GOP in manipulating political perception of their base for political leverage to gain control over Congress...the base finally realized their political ignorance was being taken advantaged of. So this is nothing more than a strike back. And it's hard enough to shake the GOP at its' roots. That's why the head honcho's are scrambling over each other to placate those tea-bagger that have ousted their select candidates in GOP primaries.

    I suspect the GOP will expect the newly elected tea-baggers to caucus with them, thus giving them a majority to take back control, however, those tea-baggers are going to expect their agendas become part of the legal record...something the GOP has resisted doing.

    It will be fun to watch and see what gets compromised to placate those tea-baggers.

    "It will be fun to watch and see what gets compromised to placate those tea-baggers."

    Fun or painful.  But you're dead right, and if the Republicans don't properly acquiesce, there's America's (shudder) first viable third party.  Quick cooking too, just boil and stir.  And New York's now officially planted its imprimatur.  I think, with Paladino in, Genghis's what's the matter with New York question should be revived.

    He won't beat Cuomo (I hope that doesn't wind up to be famous last words), but downstaters tend to forget that upstate is a whole different animal, and, he's going to get a lot of time at the bullhorn, winning hearts and minds.

    So the syndrome spreads.  Perhaps it has to reach critical mass before there's a pullback. But till then the question remains as to just why progressive causes can't produce this kind of groundswell.  Fancy financing aside, I keep scratching me head on that one.  Why?

    I guess another worry is that these people running for office now are winning instant celebrity for themselves.  They don't have to win office to be dangerous.  Indeed, Sarah Palin is a lot more dangerous out of office, with millions of dollars and free media access.


    I can't tell whether this is a surge of crazy or a surge of existing crazy being motivated to vote.  Neither is ideal, but the latter is probably better than the former. 


    Here's another argument for why growth of the tea party is bad news for Democrats: As what now passes for "moderate" Republicans are driven from the GOP, they will swell the ranks of independents who vote Democratic. But not because they are dumping their small-C conservative views. As they become a bigger part of the the mix Democratic nominees need to appeal to, candidates' stances will inexorably skew further right. Conservadems may be the first to suffer this November, but like unwanted chest and leg hair they'll be back in even greater profusion next election cycle. As the crazies complete their takeover of the Republican brand, old-style Republicans will play a bigger and bigger role in shaping the Democratic one.

    So as the moderate Conservatives are kicked, pushed and shoved out of the GOP by the tea-baggers and their ilk, they move to the Progessive party which will open the door for more right leaning Democrats to pander for their approval which in turn moves the Democrat Party to the conservative political spectrum once held by the GOP before the hostile takeover. So that leaves us left of center, center left and lefty Democrats out in the cold without a Party. Instead of the GOP having to recreate itsel anew, they just pressgang the Democrat Party and make those of us in the party either submit to their political ideology or walk the plank. Who would have thought the demise of the GOP as we knew it would shift the Democrat party so far to the right it would become the new GOP and start the unravelling the essence of what it meant to be a Democrat.

    My point exactly. But jeez, stop writing "the Democrat Party." If you're a left-of-center Dem you should find that Republican-generated slur offensive. It's even crept into use up here, where papers and pundits sometimes call the opposition New Democratic Party the New Democrat Party.

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