JONATHAN CHAIT SEPTEMBER 14, 2010
UPDATE: Rush Limbaugh cited this post in calling Jonathan Chait "a hate merchant."
The conservative movement has spent the last 20 months sowing hysteria about President Obama's agenda. The most respectable Republicans call the president a socialist, a radical, a threat to freedom. The less respectable Republicans, many of them highly influential, call him an alien, a sympathizer of radical Islam, a conscious enemy of the United States who is trying to wreck the economy. Obama is a dangerous figure, he cannot be compromised with, and the fight against him is a twilight struggle to save the last vestiges of the Republic.
And so it has been amusing to watch Republicans as they desperately attempted to persuade Republican voters in Delaware to support moderate Mike Castle over Christine O'Donnell. The political logic is obvious: Castle would have been a near shoo-in to win, while O'Donnell is a near shoo-in to lose. Castle may be a moderate, but half a loaf is better than none. Here is John McCormack of the Weekly Standard:
Yet, Castle remained unapologetic about his support for cap-and-trade, unlike other moderate Republicans, such as Mark Kirk in Illinois and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, who ran from cap-and-trade when they ran for Senate. "Do I regret supporting it originally? Politically, it would have been easier not to, but ultimately if we get to the point where we are actually improving our environment and do the things we need to do, I don’t necessarily think it was a wasted vote."
But, Castle argued, cap-and-trade is almost certainly dead in this Congress and the next...
Mark Hemmingway in the Washington Examiner:
Castle may be a liberal Republican, but that's better than a liberal Democrat. True, Castle has in the past supported cap and trade and other legislation that makes conservatives wince. But he's also a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal Obamacare.
And the Wall Street Journal editorial page:
GOP primary voters must decide if they want to vote for Mr. Castle, a moderate who would help Republicans organize the Senate and who opposed ObamaCare but who will give them heartburn on some issue in the future. Or they can vote their heart even if it means giving up a Senate seat.
And so on, and so on. The premise of all these pleas for Castle was extremely sensible: this is politics. Sometimes you move the ball forward, sometimes the other team moves it forward. Sometimes you make compromises in order to get ahead.
But the Republican base has been taught not to think this way. This isn't just politics, remember? This is a twilight struggle for freedom. And Mike Castle didn't just cast a couple bad votes. He acquiesced in a sinister plan to undermine capitalism. How could they ever support a candidate like that?
Moreover, Republican voters have luxuriated in the belief that they represent the true majority of the American people. Obama may have won by fooling the voters, or possibly by stealing the election with Acorn, but the enduring majority of the public is staunchly conservative. Indeed, Republicans only lost because they strayed from the true faith.
Now, most elite Republicans understand that the red meat fed to the base isn't exactly right. It's useful to scare the daylights out of the activists, but writers for the Standard and the Journal editorial page understand that "freedom," as most people understand the term, is not really at risk. They understand as well that politics is a little more complicated than "if Republicans stay true to conservatism, they cannot lose."
But the conservative base is not in on the joke. And so Republican elites found themselves with just a few frantic days to undo the toxic and intoxicating effects of 20 months of relentless propaganda. Vote for the man who compromised with evil! The true conservative can't always win! They couldn't do it.
I won't say that the Republican base strategy has been a total failure. But it is nice to see it blow up in the face of the establishment from time to time.