We have written several times about the Buckley Rule–in any election, one should support the most conservative viable candidate–in the context of Delaware’s Senate race. I am a little reluctant to wade back into that debate, but two recent contributions to the discussion are worth noting.
Our friend Andy McCarthy disagreed with us and, I guess, with Buckley at the Corner this morning. (Or last night; his post was timed at 4:00 a.m., so I’m not sure whether Andy was up early or up late.) He argues that these are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary measures:
The Buckley Rule is sensible only in a strategic framework that assumes ordinary politics. To be sure, such times will always feature intense policy disagreements. Yet the competing factions will be in agreement on fundamentals….
These are not ordinary times. The nation is in the grip of post-sovereign leftists who reject the premise that the country is essentially good — that’s why, they say, it needs “fundamental change.” They are locking in their redistributionist vision by borrowing the terrifying trillions they spend. They are not worried about governing against the opposition of a lopsided majority of Americans. Unpopular is one thing; transformational is something else.
This is where the chattering Sunday-morning know-it-alls lead the GOP establishment over the cliff. To hear the pundits tell it, the highest Republican interest is control of the government. The holy grail is winning enough seats to take over the House, the Senate, and the constituent committees of both chambers. Ideological purity is secondary to wielding the levers of power.
This, however, conflates the highest interest — i.e., the national interest — with the parochial interest of establishment politicos. The “establishment” exists precisely because there is a professional political class. GOP leadership has come to accept — to revel in — the same basic conceit that animated Woodrow Wilson and FDR, and that guides Obama: Modern society is too big, too complex, and too judicialized to be hamstrung by so obsolete a notion as federalism, or to be managed by so quaint a figure as the citizen-legislator.
Fair enough. But Andy only gets to the focus of the debate–the Delaware Senate race–at the end of his post:
The GOP establishment will either get the message or it will go the way of the failed candidates it has backed. If it had done its job, if it had undertaken to represent rather than thwart the public will, it wouldn’t now be asking itself how you get Christine O’Donnell elected. It would have found a better Christine O’Donnell.
I agree with that, actually. But it doesn’t give us a lot of practical guidance as to how to respond to a race between Mike Castle–a sure winner, but a lousy Republican–and Christine O’Donnell, a seemingly-sure loser, but much more conservative and likely a better Republican. I’m still not sure that the bottom line of Paul Mirengoff’s posts on the race–half a loaf is better than none–isn’t the winning argument.
At Commentary, meanwhile, John Podhoretz has a very interesting reflection on the origins of O’Donnell’s political career, and what might be in store in the seemingly-unlikely event that she wins. It answers the question I’ve pondered ever since I read about the witchcraft revelation: what was she doing on Bill Maher’s show, anyway?
[T]hose media appearances in the mid-1990s were the jet fuel that propelled her later career, such as it has been. She was, at the time, an entirely new political creature: the kid TV pundit. This was an invention of the cable-TV explosion in the early 1990s, at the time of the creation of MSNBC, the Fox News Channel, and the expansion of Comedy Central. The Christian Science Monitor had a cable channel. There was even an all-conservative 24-hour channel, called National Empowerment Television (catchy, no?).
This being TV, however, a premium was placed by some on youth and looks. … There was such an inexhaustible maw of time that nearly any member of the national punditocracy could find himself or herself on television three times a week, sitting like a cast member of The Brady Bunch in a gigantic checkerboard, with nine people screaming at once.
It was in this context that Christine O’Donnell first started popping up. She was of particular value because she was young, pretty, and a raging extremist of the right. And, clearly, she was thrilled to be on TV. That’s why Bill Maher had her on his show Politically Incorrect so often, both on Comedy Central and when it migrated to ABC (as a late-night competitor to cable news). She could hold down the conservative chair and, to be blunt, say embarrassing, stupid, and excessive things that would discredit the very cause she was supposed to be there to represent. She even did so on programs that didn’t book her for that purpose, like The O’Reilly Factor, during which, in the course of a discussion of the important and complex issue of cloning, she began blathering dementedly about mice with human brains.
Her standing as a kid pundit is crucial to understanding the reasons why she became a sacrificial-lamb candidate for the Delaware GOP for two cycles before 2010 — because she had some kind of name and some kind of media experience. She was obscure but had a catchy resume. And as a result of that and other things, she was present to catch a wave against Mike Castle, the mainstream liberal Republican who was the perfect foe for an insurgent movement with passion and seriousness of purpose behind it.
Unfortunately, as O’Donnell’s behavior 15 years ago and now attest, there is little evidence of seriousness of purpose (like her workplace lawsuit in particular against the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, in which she demanded damages because she had trouble sleeping) and a great deal of evidence of her fundamental silliness. Booking and canceling television interviews and bouncing around confusedly in the wake of her victory have not inspired confidence in the voters of Delaware. After the election, assuming the tsunami doesn’t manage miraculously to carry her over, she will have a second career on the conservative circuit blaming the mainstream media for harming her candidacy.
But there would be no Christine O’Donnell without the mainstream media, and it will be to their precincts she will in all likelihood decamp in the wake of her sudden fame, turning the ideas she claims to embody into a dismissible caricature, just as she did in her youth. The same, by the way, will be true if she wins; she will be the first new senator liberal reporters turn to for a quote on something controversial, in hopes that she will step in it. The problem is not the ideas, or the Tea Party. The problem is O’Donnell and her path to the spotlight.
That last prediction has a ring of truth. Personally, nevertheless, I am still following the Buckley Rule. O’Donnell is indisputably the most conservative candidate in the Delaware Senate race, and we can only hope that she is viable in 2010, even though she might not have been in any other year. Thus–unlike, no doubt, the vast majority of those who have excoriated me for pointing out her weaknesses as a candidate–I have actually donated to O’Donnell’s campaign. You can do the same by going here.
UPDATE: O’Donnell may not be a Constitutional scholar, but she runs rings around one Dahlia Lithwick of Slate. At the Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru points out this howler by Lithwick, who, if I understand him correctly, is “Slate’s chief legal writer.” Is that possible? As a lawyer, it is depressing to think that any member of my profession could write this:
I have been fascinated by Christine O’Donnell’s constitutional worldview since her debate with her opponent Chris Coons last week. O’Donnell explained that “when I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional.” How weird is that, I thought. Isn’t it a court’s job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional? And isn’t that sort of provided for in, well, the Constitution?
What an idiot! This is a useful reminder that a dumb conservative is smarter than a smart liberal.
PAUL adds: I agree with Andy McCarthy that these are not ordinary times. But the reason isn’t because the Democrats suddenly reject the premise that America is essentially good or possess a redistributionist vision that they believe trumps the views of a lopsided majority of Americans. This has been the case for years, as Andy implies elsewhere in his column when he mentions Woodrow Wilson and FDR.
What makes these times exceptional is that the Democrats control the presidency, have big majorities in both chambers of Congress, and are not constrained by moderates in their congressional caucuses. The key factor is, in Andy’s words, “the grip” of left-liberal Democrats, not some new found left-liberalism. That grip has enabled them, since the election of Obama, to pass important left-wing legislation despite their virtually total lack of support from Republicans, even RINOS.
If anything, this state of affairs called during the primary season for more, not less, focus on defeating Democrats by nominating easily electable Republicans rather than long-shot conservatives. For it is only by winning elections that the left-liberal grip can be removed. Once it is removed, it may make more sense than it does now to take some risks in the name of ideological purity.