Christine O'Donnell: The Rational Conservative's Candidate

The battle within the Republican Party over Christine O'Donnell, erstwhile anti-masturbation activist and newly minted GOP candidate for Senate in Delaware, appears on the surface to be between party insiders who are pragmatic and reasonable, and Tea Party outsiders who are idealistic to the point of stupidity. After all, they just threw over a guaranteed pickup of a Senate seat in favor of a candidate almost sure to lose.

But seen another way, pushing candidates like O'Donnell is perfectly rational -- it's just a matter of how far down the road you want to look. Sure, O'Donnell will probably lose. But at least one or two of her fellow teabagging nutballs who also beat establishment candidates in GOP primaries -- like Rand Paul in Kentucky or Sharron Angle in Nevada -- will probably win. Then they'll be United States senators, with all the attendant ability to garner attention for their views. And before you know it, we'll be having serious debates about the Kenyan socialist conspiracy within the National Parks Service, or something.

Not only that, all it takes is a couple of Tea Party victories to scare the bejeezus out of the entire Republican Party, pulling them not just to the right but to the border of Crazystan. A seat or two in the Senate is a small price to pay if you believe the GOP as it stands today is a bunch of liberal weenies.

In the long run, the GOP becomes more and more conservative -- and yet it will still periodically win elections for both Congress and the White House, because that's just the nature of the political pendulum. I suppose it's possible that after a couple of losses the party will move to the center, as the Democratic Party did in 1992. But I have trouble seeing that happening. The GOP of today is more conservative than it was 10 years ago when George W. Bush came to office, and that GOP was more conservative than the one that rallied behind Ronald Reagan, which in turn was more conservative than the GOP that stood behind Richard Nixon. In my lifetime anyway, the Republican Party has only moved in one direction: to the right.

And this is a self-perpetuating cycle. Outside of a few marginal figures like Christine Todd Whitman, was there anyone in the Republican Party saying that Bush's failures should be met with a turn to the center? Like Michael Castle, the moderates are purged one by one, until there's no one left in the party to make that case. Just as tax cuts are the answer to both good times and bad, moving to the right becomes the answer to both success and failure.

-- Paul Waldman

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