Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The politics of fear in Delaware

Jerry Stratton, September 13, 2010

There’s a divide down the blogosphere right now between Republicans and independents. On Ace of Spades, for example, Ace is arguing for the party-line Republican position, which is that you should vote for the more electable candidate in the primary, regardless of their positions.1

Back during the NY-23 special election, I wrote in Voting for a candidate supports that candidate’s positions:

Over at Ace of Spades HQ, Ace is trying to convince people that New York 23 was a special case, and that most of the time, you should vote along partisan lines rather than on principles or issues. That’s a recipe for exactly the situation Republicans have found themselves in for the last couple of (several?) years.

Ace’s argument that party trumps everything else today in Delaware is not a new position for him (though it might be new to apply it to the primary).

I’m not a Republican. If the choice is between going to hell in a blue basket or a red basket, I’m going to try not to go to hell at all. Sometimes that requires taking a long view. But that’s what primaries are for. Voting for a candidate supports that candidate’s positions. Republicans aren’t going to see “people just voted for Castle so that we could vote against cap-and-trade tax increases and similar misguided policies”. They’re going to see “people will vote for Republicans even if we support cap-and-trade tax increases and similar policies”. Because that is the position Ace is taking when he argues in favor of voting for Mike Castle. That is Castle’s stated position, and it wins him Ace’s vote.

If you decide to vote with the Republican establishment in the primary because you are afraid of the Democrats in the general, that’s your choice2. Just remember that this is one of the things that the party establishment does to stop reform: put up candidates who specifically oppose grassroots philosophies in order to make the grassroots compromise or just go home—in either case, and not threaten the party establishment.

Establishments don’t like having to campaign on principles; principles force them to take a stand. Just wait: right now the party establishment is laughing at the silly idea of impeachment. But if the Republicans actually do take the Senate and the House, they’ll spin like a deadhead in favor of long, unproductive impeachment proceedings3 rather than getting down to the hard work of undoing the bad laws of the past four years. The latter requires principle; the former doesn’t. The establishment always goes where principles are not required.

She may be right or wrong in this instance, but this is why Palin is trying to reform the national Republican party in the same way that she and other reformers did to Alaska’s Republican party. There will be no reform as long as the party exists solely as a club for maintaining power. In that respect, an O’Donnell who loses is far better than a Castle who wins, because O’Donnell tells the establishment that fear alone will not gain them votes. They need to win on policy. Yes, we’re afraid of the direction the country’s going in. But our votes are going to reform, not to fear.

The establishment is forcing this choice in Delaware because they want us to give in to fear. They want us to think we need them more than they need us. That’s why they’re willing to burn someone ahead of the primary who has a very good chance of being their nominee after the primary.

It is the people who are willing to vote the other way who most need to be courted. And that doesn’t just apply to the voters in the primary and general elections. A Mike Castle in the Senate will need to be given leadership positions in the Republican Party, because he will need to be convinced to vote conservative. Castle’s been voting more conservatively in the past year than his earlier record, because he knows he has to court voters in this primary. But once he’s elected, he’s the voter.4 And that means he’ll be the one who conservatives need to court in the Senate. And for an establishment figure like Castle, this doesn’t just mean compromise; it means key positions of power. It means letting him lead and set the agenda.

You’ve got the same thing going on in New York’s 23rd district. The Republican establishment cannot stand the thought of a grassroots conservative winning—even one with the opposite problem of the O’Donnell/Castle primary fight: if electability were the issue, Hoffman would be the establishment’s candidate for the House in NY 23. Hoffman was the obvious choice by the time the special election’s vote was certified, when Democrat Bill Owens had already walked back his most important campaign promises. But if electability were really the issue, the establishment Republican would not have endorsed the establishment Democrat in that special election.

This year’s elections are not a fight about Democrats or Republicans. They’re a fight about who are the masters in American politics: the people, or the politicians.

  1. When independents called them on this, they also started waging a scorched earth campaign against her morals, her judgement, and her mental state, the trifecta of anti-female politics. None of it mattered until people didn’t take “electability” as the argument-closer.

  2. Both Pelosi and Reid are genuinely frightening. But if we let them get away with it, Republicans will ride those frightening spectres through as many electoral cycles as they can—probably more—rather than roll back the bad policies they’ve enacted.

  3. They don’t even have to lead to trial. All they have to do is divert attention away from the principles that the voters wanted them to follow when they threw the Democrats out.

  4. He probably doesn’t even plan to run again in 2016.

  1. <- Bush tax cuts
  2. Politics of confusion ->