Tuesday night, when Christine O’Donnell managed to demolish Mike Castle’s senatorial hopes, the hand-wringing was to be anticipated. After all, Democrats have spent the last month chomping desperately at the bit, praying for an O’Donnell victory. The word on the street is that “she’s unelectable.” It’s a phrase that was plunged into the heart of the O’Donnell campaign by one of the GOP’s own, Karl Rove. A pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-cap-and-trade Republican-in-name-only like Castle was obviously the better way to go. According to people like Rove, if they’d only been willing to ignore outdated platitudes like “states’ rights” and “the 2ndAmendment,” Delaware’s voters could have guaranteed a Republican victory and strengthened the party’s power.
It’s a sterling piece of evidence that the GOP elite is remarkably out of touch with its membership.
Wednesday morning on Fox News, Rove was almost giddy as he twisted the “unelectable” dagger. He spent several minutes enumerating the flaws that, in his mind, have doomed O’Donnell’s candidacy. In fact, he made the case far more concisely than any Democrat has managed. When he finished, he dared the nascent candidate to prove him wrong — by actually winning. It was an awkward display from Rove, who admits O’Donnell is right on the issues, and should therefore actually want her in office.
Unfortunately, many GOP power players aren’t there for the issues. Party strength is far more important to them than, say, personal liberty. They simply cannot understand the fact that there are many who feel a Republican-controlled Congress is worthless if it’s not going to stand for anything. People like Rove have been very slow to realize that the most significant change in the country isn’t a shift to the right as a reactionary move away from Obama. It’s a shift to the right geared toward scaling back the ever-increasing scope of the federal government. If GOP members are going to arrive in Washington only to play nice and enact a tax-and-spend agenda of bailouts and big government, the rank-and-file members aren’t going to put them in power.
Yes, that means they may lose a few elections along the way. There’s no doubt that O’Donnell has an uphill battle ahead of her. However, Marco Rubio, another “unelectable” candidate backed by the Tea Party, now holds a fourteen-point lead in an election the elites said he couldn’t win. In the process he’s proven that being slapped down by party establishment may not be such a bad thing. Further evidence lies with O’Donnell herself, who has managed to raise over half a million dollars just one day after the National Republican Senatorial Committee informed her that they would not be offering her the financial assistance they had planned to give Castle.
Her reply, “To hell with them,” is beginning to feel like a battle cry for all disaffected GOP members.
Party officials, pundits, and strategists like Rove need to keep one thing in mind. They don’t get to decide who’s electable and who isn’t. That job belongs to the voters. It’s why we have a primary system. The rank and file is not there to be lectured to. They’ll tell the party what they want, and the party will make it happen or face obsolescence. Whether Tea Party candidates win or lose, their very presence should serve as a wakeup call to the GOP brass. The old ways aren’t working anymore. Conservatives are sick and tired of living with a Republican Party incapable of presenting them with anything other than lip service.
Party leaders can either listen to, and get on board with, the new program, or they can get out of the way.
Robert Laurie is a Michigan-based conservative columnist and freelance writer. He also runs a daily political commentary blog at RobertLaurie.net.