JONATHAN CHAIT MAY 6, 2010
Last fall I wrote an item mocking Frank Rich for comparing a conservative Republican primary challenger to a "purge":
So wait. Some GOP hacks appointed a relative moderate to represent a district that could probably sustain a much more conservative representative, and conservatives are trying to elect a more right-wing alternative. What exactly is the problem here?
Then the other day I did a similar item, ridiculing Marc Thiessen for attempting to draw some philosophical distinction between primary challenges he supports and "purges":
What, you may ask, is the difference between a purge and an insurgency designed to elect real believers in your side's ideology? Obviously, when your own party is doing it, it's the latter. When the other party does it, it's a purge. Joe Lieberman was purged. Arlen Specter was simply the loser of a targeted effort to elect a handful of real conservatives who will help fight for fiscal discipline and conservative values in the Senate.
Ethan Epstein, utterly misunderstanding my point, has an item expressing shock and anger that I would compare a primary challenge to a purge:
One claim, nearly as preposterous as those listed above, has gained traction in the mainstream, “respectable” media, however. That is the idea that contested Republican primary elections are “purges.” Jon Chait of the New Republic said as much yesterday...
These claims are wildly ahistorical, and amount to a form of false moral equivalence that Beltway elites like Chait and Parker typically purport to reject....
But now that a large group of citizens are getting involved in politics, and seem legitimately “fired up,” to borrow a phrase from our President, the likes of Chait and Parker express dismay. Maybe it’s the Washington Post and the New Republic that are due for a purge.
I thought my sarcasm was obvious enough, but apparently not. So, for the record, I do not think primary challenges are comparable to purges. I think it's funny when pundits are horrified at primary challenges against moderates, especially when they justify the same thing when it happens within their own party.
Update: Epstein very graciously apologizes for misreading my item. Too graciously -- it's not as if my item was impervious to misreading.