by James Frye
I almost feel sorry for the Republicans. OK, not really; but I get what they wanted to do when they created and egged on their Tea Party. After Obama’s election the right was getting a taste of what they tried to sell after Bush was re-elected in 2004, which was basically: We Democrats won the election and the argument and you righties can sit down and shut up now. The GOPers wanted to put a public face on the idea that they may be out of power now but they’re still around. So they set about to do that with their Tea Party.
I say “their” on purpose – this wasn’t ever a populist movement that sprang up out of nowhere. The Republicans financed, organized and promoted this “movement” via the usual surrogates. The idea was to have some demonstrations to show the country they were down but not out and to give their supporters a boost after losing the White House in an Electoral College landslide. Not an unreasonable effort, either: an opposition party is expected to oppose, in this case, the Democratic President and the Democratic Congress.
But something happened that they didn’t foresee. It wasn’t quiet conservatives who were showing up to these demonstrations to politely applaud speakers and hold signs, it was the talk radio crowd, and they were anything but quiet or reasonable. This created quite a conundrum for the Republican leadership — these were the crackpot radical right wingnuts who they tolerated to get their votes but they swept under the carpet come election time so they could pretend to be moderate and reasoned. Here they were, on TV and everything, and they revealed themselves to be what they always had been: the true Republican base. The Republicans scrambled to reduce the damage by claiming the TPers were really independent of, and as angry at, their party, as much as they were at the Democrats for defeating them.
That worked for them for a while too. The Tea Party ran challengers to regular Republicans across the country, but initially didn’t do so well with them. Now the GOP could claim that the teabaggers were just the fringe and they didn’t like them either.
Then came Bob Bennett of Utah. The Tea Party organized, took over the state Republican convention and denied Bennett, a longtime regular Republican stalwart in the US Senate, the nomination of his party for another term. He would be the first sitting US Senator to lose his seat in 2010 with no actual statewide election taking place. OK, this was a loss for the party power brokers to be sure, but there is still a primary to be held in Utah between the candidates who came in first and second to Bennett’s third, and they might get at least a lesser nut in.
Then came Kentucky and the first real win for the teabaggers with Randal “Rand” Paul. You’re already aware of the consternation Paul has caused and the Republicans want to have their cake and eat it too, as GOP chair Michael Steele expressed deep concern about Paul and then went on to defend him on ABC’s This Week:
STEELE: … it's a philosophical position held by a lot of libertarians, which Rand Paul is. They have a very, very strong view about the limitations of government intrusion into the private sector. That is a philosophical perspective. We have had a lot of members go to the United States Senate with a lot of different philosophies, but when they get to the body, how they work to move the country forward matters. [...]
TAPPER: But do you condemn that view?
STEELE: I can't condemn a person's view.
In other words, they want the Senate seat but they don’t want to be seen endorsing the Paul/Tea Party position. Well ain’t that too bad.
But now, Mr. Emanuel argues, the energy of the Tea Party movement is pulling Republicans from small-government toward no-government responses to the nation's problems. "If it's efficient government versus no government," he said, "we win."
Mr. Emanuel's formulation contains some wishful thinking. But it also points toward the broader significance of Rand Paul's victory in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary.
Whether or not Mr. Paul can hold the seat of Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican who is retiring, the philosophy he calls "constitutional conservatism" resembles as closely as can be found in a candidate for federal office the no-government stance Mr. Emanuel wants to take on. That is why, as much as the diffuse dialogue of midterm elections will allow, Democrats will try to make Mr. Paul the face of the opposition.
As well they should. Randy Paul’s problem isn’t that he’s a rookie candidate making rookie mistakes, his problem is that he’s telling voters what and how he and the Tea Party thinks. He’s hardly alone. We’ve already heard of Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden’s proposal to handle health care costs by bartering chickens. Rest assured, what they are saying is no joke. They mean every word of it and have every intention of making us all live under their nutty ideas if they are elected.
The Democrats’ job this election cycle is to be sure that voters know who backed these nuts and where they came from. This is the Republican Party’s fault and their base. Democrats need to have them own what they created and encouraged.