Thinking about the Buckley rule

We have received an avalanche of email messages responding to our dust-up with Mark Levin over the candidacy of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and regarding our comments on Rush’s suspension of the Buckley rule in favor of the Limbaugh Rule. Yesterday Rush crowed that the Limbaugh Rule rules the day.
Some readers have written to express their support, while some have written to express their disagreement with us. Some correspondents have condemned us as liberals, as RINOs, even as members of what Angelo Codevilla calls “America’s ruling class.”
Speaking for myself, I would like to borrow the words of the politician who asserted that he was conservative before conservative was cool. I think the emergence of the Tea Party is the best thing that has happened in American politics in a long time. Foremost among the tasks confronting us is the restoration of the principles of limited government. The Tea Party movement gets at the roots of our current crisis of constitutionalism.
Some readers have written to announce that they will no longer be visiting our site. Thanks to the blog format, we are relieved of the necessity of canceling their subscription, or responding in the style of the late, great Mr. Buckley: Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription.
Some readers have written to point out that Buckley himself did not follow the Buckley rule that conservatives should support the rightwardmost viable candidate. They point to Buckley’s candidacy for mayor of New York in 1965.
The Buckley rule is a rule of thumb, not a law or first principle. Under certain circumstances it can yield to higher priorities, such as the need to punish a wayward member of your own party in the interest of party discipline or principle. One thinks here of Buckley’s support of Joe Lieberman against Lowell Weicker. When Lieberman challenged the nominally Republican Weicker for the Senate in 1988, National Review ran an article raising the rhetorical question: “Does Lowell Weicker Make You Sick?” In her obituary of Buckley, Ann Coulter recalled:

Buckley started a political action committee to support Lieberman, explaining, “We want to pass the word that it’s OK to vote for the other guy or stay at home.” The good thing about Lieberman, Buckley said, was that he “doesn’t have the tendency of appalling you every time he opens his mouth.”

Buckley’s opponents in the New York mayoralty race were the nominally Republican John Lindsay and the traditional Democrat Abe Beame. As between Lindsay and Beame, there was no rightwardmost candidate. Both Lindsay and Beame were liberals. Buckley devotes a large portion of The Unmaking of a Mayor to his analysis of Lindsay’s liberalism. Buckley’s 1965 candidacy does not contradict his rule of thumb.
Circumstances dictate the applicability or not of the Buckley rule. We thought it applied in Delaware in 2010 for a variety of reasons. I understand those who disagree. The question is one of judgment that is necessarily subject to reasonable disagreement.
Having vanquished Mike Castle, Christine O’Donnell has shaken up the Republican establishment. By itself this is a good thing. She now faces off against Democrat Chris Coons. Coons is the guy who once proudly held himself out as “the bearded Marxist.” O’Donnell is certainly the rightwardmost candidate in the race. Support her here. If she proves to be viable, as I can only hope she does, I will be the first to say I was wrong.
PAUL adds: I’ll be the second, although I should be the first, since I’m the one who has been writing about the Delaware race since before it was on most people’s radar.
It’s difficult to believe that we have regular readers who think we’re part of the “ruling class.” If we do, I can’t blame them if they stop reading us.
Finally, the Limbaugh rule is not as all conquering as Rush supposes. It didn’t prevail in California, where Carly Fiorina defeated Chuck DeVore (who finished a third with 20 percent of the vote) or in Washington where Dino Rossi trounced Clint Didier. If the Limbaugh rule had prevailed in these states, I doubt the Republicans would have any real shot at winning those Senate seats.
The Tea Party movement has picked up political steam since these races (a good thing in many ways, as Scott says). But even on Tuesday night, the Limbaugh rule did not prevail in New Hampshire, where Ovide Lamontagne, who was probably the rightward most candidate and was endorsed by the Tea Party, fell slightly short of the Senate nomination (thereby significantly increasing the odds that this seat will remain Republican).
And in Maryland, Brian Murphy, the rightward most candidate and endorsed by Sarah Palin, picked up only one of every four ballots in his race against Bob Ehrlich for the gubernatorial nomination.
The world remains a stubbornly complicated place.

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