Tactical Radicalism.

Jonathan Chait has a great post up about the GOP's tactical radicalism, and what it means for the party's traditional establishment. In short, Republican voters and some activists believe that ideological purity comes at no cost whatsoever, and as such the party can nominate right-wing extremists without suffering any electoral harm. Here's Chait with more:

You don't have to love Sue Lowden to understand that a 90% chance of Lowden winning is better than a 20% chance of Sharron Angle winning. Nor is there any recognition on the right that conservatives paved the way for health care reform by driving Specter out. In conservative lore, the Pat Toomey primary challenge remains a glorious triumph, when in fact it's a disaster of historic proportions.

In the past, the Republican Party has always managed to hold in check the tactical radicalism of its base. It's starting to run wild. In past elections, I would have totally discounted the possibility that the party might nominate a figure like Sarah Palin, because the party establishment has always been strong enough to push aside candidates who were not strong electoral vehicles for conservatism. I'm no longer sure they have that power anymore.

I think you could overstate this case; presidential nomination contests are still large enough and important enough that party elites have a fair amount of sway over the process. If Sarah Palin wants to be the party's presidential nominee in 2012, she will have to have the support of the party's establishment lest it mobilize against her early on. But when it comes to Senate and House races, Chait is spot on: The GOP's growing radicalism has empowered the grassroots elements of the GOP coalition while weakening the establishment.

That said, this probably isn't all bad for the GOP. The economy is poor enough that there are plenty of voters willing to support radical candidates, and I wouldn't be shocked if this tactical radicalism actually paid off for a few candidates. Indeed, liberals shouldn't bank on voters rejecting this radicalism; as long as the economy is bad, voters will be far more willing to support candidates from far outside the mainstream. Insofar that this turn toward radicalism will ever hurt Republicans, it's if the economy improves and voters remember their preference for less crazy politicians.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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