We hear constantly how conservatives are out to purge any elected Republican who fails wholly to embrace right-wing orthodoxy. President Obama’s political point man, David Axelrod, went so far as to call this a “reign of terror.”
In this Democrat/MSM narrative, conservatives are de-civilizing politics. And in doing so, they are ensuring that the system will become ever more polarized, to point that it will barely function.
But yesterday’s Pennsylvania Democratic primaries reminded us of an inconvenient truth – the left plays politics basically the same way. Consider first what happened in the 17th Congressional District, which encompasses the Reading area. Since 1993, it has been represented by Tim Holden, a member of the quickly shrinking Blue Dog faction of the House Democratic caucus.
Holden’s moderation – he voted against Obamcare for example – enabled him repeatedly to be re-elected, almost always easily, in a “Reagan Democrat” type district. In 2004, he defeated one of Joe Paterno’s sons, even as President Bush carried the district handily. In 2010, the year of the Republican rout, he was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote.
This year, however, Holden was forced to run in a radically reconfigured district, with a much more left-leaning Democratic constituency. As a result, he succumbed last night to Matt Cartwright, a wealthy lawyer supported by lefty groups such as the Campaign for Primary Accountability (a nice euphemism for what Axelrod sees as “terrorism”).
Next, consider the newly configured 12th district. There, the primary featured two Democratic incumbents, Mark Critz and Jason Altmire. Critz is a disciple of John Murtha. Readers may recall that in 2010, he held on to Murtha’s old seat in a closely-watched election. Crtiz is a standard-issue liberal.
Altmire is a moderate. Like Holden, he voted against Obamacare. He narrowly survived the 2010 election, winning by a count of 51-49.
Last night, Critz rode the support of labor unions to defeat Altmire 52-48. He did so despite the fact that Altmire currently represents approximately two-thirds of the district. Critz now faces the prospect of trying to win a district whose voters John McCain carried with 54 percent in 2008. His opponent, Keith Rothfus, is the guy Altmire beat by 51-49 two years ago.
These results don’t represent a “reign of terror,” anymore than what’s been happening on the Republican side. Instead they represent politics. As such, the outcomes should be judged pragmatically. The 17th district is now apparently pretty liberal, so Cartwright stands a good chance of holding it for the Dems. Thus, it was probably smart politics for liberals to turn against Holden.
The 12th district may prove to be a different story. Critz’s chances of holding the district are probably worse than Altmire’s would have been. But who is to say that Altmire would have defeated Rothfus this time or, for that matter, than Critz won’t defeat him this year.
There is, of course, a coercive element to taking on moderate incumbents. The idea is to induce them not to buck the Party orthodoxy, as both Holden and Altmire did with Obamacare. The ability to thus coerce has its limits though. There is no doubt that, had Altmire supported Obamacare, he would have lost in 2010, as so many other Democrats did.
In any case, there is nothing wrong with conservatives or liberals trying to induce incumbents to vote conservatively or liberally, as the case may be. Again, the key is to do so prudently – in other words not to the point of knocking off reasonably conservative or liberal incumbents who can win and replacing them with purer counterparts who cannot.