Yes, the Republican Party seems to have gone a little nuts, at least in Delaware, or as Jon Chait explains it well, it is “reaping the whirlwind” for its choice to cast political debate in the Obama era in apocalyptic terms.
But let’s recognize, as Mike Castle apparently didn’t, that it’s not just an existing set of Republicans losing their minds. It’s a very different, and much smaller, group of people. And at least in certain states, especially in the Northeast, that’s due to Democratic successes that flipped traditional suburban old-line Republicans over to the Democrats. Obama had a lot to do with that, but so did George W. Bush, congressional candidates, and local issues, especially involving development.
As a result, the electorate made up of suburban moderate Republicans and conservative rural Republicans in Delaware and Pennsylvania, the coalition that supported Castle and Arlen Specter (who knew he was doomed), no longer exists.
Here’s the shift in party registration in Delaware.
That’s a shift from a 55 percent Democratic electorate to a 61 percent Democratic advantage in a short time. More significantly, GOP registration in New Castle County, centered on Wilmington and mostly suburban, went down by 10,000 from 2000-2008, so the party's small gain came entirely from the two rural counties.
There’s a similar pattern in Pennsylvania:
And here, too, the suburban switch is spectacular: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, lost 10,000 Republican registrants, while Democrats gained almost 60,000.
Or take New Hampshire, where the most conservative candidate, Ovide Lamontagne (I’d vote for the name alone) is awaiting the last vote count to see if he, too, upset a favorite, the shift is also stark: Republican registration down by 6,000, Dems up by 71,000. New York, where Carl Paladino won the nomination for governor, shows the same pattern, and, again, the big suburban counties, where the Republican Party was born, like Westchester, show the biggest loss of Republicans, which is to say, moderate Republicans.
So the Tea Party movement didn’t “take over” the Republican Party so much as it moved into a vacuum where voters had already abandoned the party, making it far easier for them to win. And for all their enthusiasm, intensity, and media fascination, they represent far fewer voters than Republicans in those states in the past. The new Republican Party was built in part by Democratic success, and if Democrats like Delaware’s Chris Coons benefit, that’s not just a happy accident.
-- Mark Schmitt