In their postmortems of the 2010 elections, many in the Senate Republican establishment have placed the blame for their inability to regain the majority on Senator Jim DeMint’s principled pre-election endorsements. Once again these establishment elites are wrong.
Immediately following the election of President Barack Obama, the Republican establishment sent out word that the only way out of their “electoral abyss” was to nominate more moderate candidates. If you think about the Republican wish list in early 2009, the names Charlie Crist, Trey Grayson, Sue Lowden, and Jane Norton come to mind. All four are your standard “safe” candidates who fit into the mold of a Republican senator who will be fine with business as usual. None would have given the party leadership any headaches or sacrificed their electoral standing for the conservative movement and our core principles.
But in the spring of 2009, Senator DeMint bucked conventional wisdom by endorsing Marco Rubio for Senate in Florida over then-Republican Governor Charlie Crist. This irked many in the Republican establishment and their reaction was swift. One Senate Republican aide told Politico after the endorsement, “It’s hard to see how this helps Rubio in a broad sense. When you have all the Senate GOP leaders standing behind Crist, and he has Jim DeMint, it only reinforces this idea that this isn’t a serious primary. He’s only appealing to the far right of the party, and that’s reflected in low poll numbers.” How times have changed! This past Tuesday, Senator-Elect Marco Rubio beat sore loser turned Independent Charlie Crist 49 percent to 30 percent and Rubio is considered a rising star in the party.
Even more puzzling is how party leadership threw conservative stalwart Senator Jim Bunning under the bus in 2009 because they perceived him to be a weak candidate. A poll released a week before the general election showed Bunning beating Democrat nominee Jack Conway in a hypothetical matchup for the Kentucky Senate race. The establishments pick, Trey Grayson, lost to now Senator-Elect Rand Paul by nearly 20 percent in the Republican primary. On the other hand, party leadership backed then-RINO and now-outgoing-Democrat Senator Arlen Specter over conservative Pat Toomey. Toomey is now a Senator-Elect while Specter did not even make it out of the Democrat primary.
Statements from RINOs like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who blamed the loss of the majority on the candidacy of Christine O’Donnell, are just intellectually dishonest. If liberal outgoing-Congressman Mike Castle had won the Senate primary, and then the general election, he would have been the mirror image of Arlen Specter: if the Senate was close, there is no doubt in my mind that Vice President Joe Biden would be able to convince a Senator Castle to eventually caucus with the Democrats.
In the closing days of the election, the NRSC sunk $3 million in the California Senate race. Carly Fiorina was not a bad candidate and ran an admiral race, but putting that much cash into California just does not make any political sense. California is a deep blue state and with the governor’s race trending badly for the Republican candidate, Fiorina never had a chance. That money should have been spent in Washington State or Colorado where it could have helped bridge the gap in those tight Senate races. Fiorina lost the race by 10 points; Dino Rossi and Ken Buck had victory within their grasp.
In Nevada, party-outsider Sharron Angle did underperform against Majority Leader Harry Reid. Her candidacy was marred by the left’s barrage of ultra-negative attack ads. Even Sue Lowden, the establishment-pick in the Nevada Republican primary, said, “I think that I would have been vilified like she’s being vilified. Millions of dollars in commercials are being spent against her. And I think that the same would have happened to me.”
Senator Jim DeMint and principled conservative leaders should not be made the scapegoat for the Republican Party’s failure to recapture the Senate. They made endorsements based on core conservative beliefs and stood up for what they believe is right. The Republican Party is stronger today because of conservative leaders like Senator DeMint. If the Republican establishment elites are not careful, they will meet the same fate as the Whigs.