When the American left was out of power, it faced the same kind of electoral decisions that now confront conservatives — how to a weigh Democratic candidates’ ideological purity against their electability. Activists on the left resolved the decision wisely, along the lines suggested years ago by William Buckley. They supported leftists in states where they were electable, and backed or tolerated centrists and center-left candidates in red states.
Thus, the left attempted to oust Joe LIeberman — a liberal on domestic issues but not key foreign policy and national security matters — on the understanding that lefty Ned Lamont’s nomination would not cause the seat to fall into Republican hands. On the other hand, the left was quite supportive of James Webb in Virginia notwithstanding his Republican background and substantial questions about his willingness automatically to support leftist positions.
And the left gave Ben Nelson a pass in Nebraska. Left-wing activists could have labeled him a “DINO” (or something equally clever) and tried to prevent his re-nomination. But the Daily Kos crowd recognized that Nelson was the only Dem who could win in Nebraska, so it held its fire.
The left was rewarded for the soundness of these judgments when Webb and Nelson became the 59th and 60th votes for Obamacare.
Its judgment on Lieberman was sound too. He blocked the public option, but supported the final bill. Lamont would have been better for the left and nominating him didn’t cost the left his seat. Lieberman remained in place and gave the left more than half a loaf on health care.
Let’s compare this pattern of behavior with that of conservative activists this season. Early on, conservative activists showed the same good judgment the left exhibited in 2006. Far from balking at Scott Brown’s centrist tendencies, many conservative activists worked hard for him.
Later, In certain high profile races, conservative activists helped take down center-right candidates (candidates more conservative than Brown). But this generally occurred in red states like Kentucky, Utah, and Alaska.
Tea Party activists also helped defeat candidates deemed insufficiently conservative in Colorado and Nevada — states that are neither red nor blue. But in Colorado, the candidate they pushed — Ken Buck — is fairly attractive and was doing as well as his Republican opponent in head-to-head polls against the Democratic incumbent.
Nevada was a different story. Sharron Angle has not proved to be an attractive candidate so far, and her nomination seems to have given Harry Reid at least a 50 percent chance of surviving in year when he should be toast. But Angle cannot be deemed unelectable. Thus, the Buckley maxim arguably has not been violated.
Finally, though, we get to Delaware. There, in one of America’s bluest states, the Tea Party Express and other activists are backing arch-conservative Christine O’Donnell. But there’s no good case to made that O’Donnell is electable. She was trounced by Joe Biden, 65-35, last time out and she trails the Democrat running this time by about 10 percentage points.
Moreover, questions surround O’Donnell’s finances. As I wrote here, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt until I see concrete evidence of wrongdoing. But that won’t stop O’Donnell from being hammered and ridiculed if she is nominated.
In addition, O’Donnell lately has displayed poor judgment and a lack of regard for the truth. She claimed in a radio interview that she had carried two of three Delaware counties in her race against Biden. Actually, she carried none. And, when asked about the Rasmussen poll showing her well behind the Democrat, she suggested that Rasmussen was fudging his results to favor the Republican establishment.
It’s one thing to be strongly conservative; it’s another to be paranoid.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Castle, O’Donnell’s opponent in the Republican primary, is a heavy favorite to win the seat if nominated (and assuming O’Donnell doesn’t run as a third-party candidate). Castle has a double-digit lead over the Democrat. And Delaware voters have repeatedly elected him to state-wide office by hefty margins, even in not-so-good Republican years.
Castle is what I call a RIHHVO — Republican in half his votes only. As a Senator, his votes will upset me about half of the time. But it isn’t rocket science to understand that half a loaf is better than none; even the left figured that out in 2006.
And this truism is especially salient in the Delaware race this year because Castle, as the successor to an appointed Senator, will take office upon his election, rather than in January. The lame duck session will probably be the Senate’s last big chance to cause great mischief for a while. Accordingly, conservatives should be focused on preventing a rubber-stamping liberal from serving in that session, not on nominating an ideological pure candidate with virtually no chance of carrying blue Delaware.
Unfortunately, some leading conservative activists don’t see it this way. It’s disconcerting to realize that many of our activists aren’t even as astute as the likes of Markos Moulitsas.
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