Is the Republican establishment losing it?
Is the party leadership capable of uniting a governing coalition as Richard Nixon did before Watergate and Ronald Reagan resurrected in the 1980s?
Observing the hysteria and nastiness of Karl Rove and the GOP establishment at the stunning triumph of Tea Party Princess Christine O’Donnell, the answer is no.
This party is not ready to rule.
Consider. In its grand strategy to recapture a Senate that George W. Bush and Rove lost in 2006, the GOP Senate leadership endorsed all its own caucus members for re-election, if they chose to run, then picked out all its favorite candidates for the open and Democratic seats.
Conservatives and tea party activists, however, had other ideas. They began to pick their own candidates. And, again and again, the Senate’s chosen were rejected in favor of tea party challengers who had the endorsement of Sarah Palin or South Carolina’s Jim DeMint.
Arlen Specter was rejected by the Pennsylvania GOP and left the party. Rand Paul routed Sen. Mitch McConnell’s man in Kentucky. Charlie Crist was challenged by Marco Rubio in Florida. Crist, too, departed. Sen. Bob Bennett was denied renomination in Utah. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost her primary in Alaska to a little-known fellow named Joe Miller.
But Delaware was the stunner. Rep. Mike Castle, a former two-term governor who had been winning elections for 40 years, was a certain victor in November.
Challenger O’Donnell, however, ended all that.
Yet, though her conservative credentials are far superior to those of Castle, O’Donnell was made the object of a wilding attack by National Review and the Weekly Standard, Charles Krauthammer, who lashed out at Palin and DeMint for “irresponsbility,” and Rove, who on Sean Hannity’s show went postal as soon as the returns came in.
Now, on paper, O’Donnell is a far tougher sell in Delaware than is Castle. But her defeat is not certain. Not in this volatile year.
And what is the justification for the savagery of the attacks on her, from her own?
What has this woman done? Did she vote for Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court like Lindsey Graham? Did she support the Obama stimulus like Olympia Snow and Susan Collins? What did she do to deserve the trashing?
The answer is not distant.
To the Republican establishment, tea party people are field hands. Their labors are to be recognized and rewarded, but they are to stay off the porch and not presume to sit at the master’s table.
And what O’Donnell did, with her amazing victory, is to imperil that establishment’s return to power. That is why these Republicans went ballistic.
O’Donnell’s conservative convictions and Castle’s social liberalism mean nothing to them.
They are about power and all that goes with it.
And that raises a question too long put off.
What is the Republican establishment going to do, what are the neoconservatives going to do, if returned to power?
Are not these the same people who assisted George W. Bush in stampeding the nation into an unnecessary war that got 4,400 Americans killed to strip Saddam Hussein of weapons he did not have?
Are these not the same people who misled or deceived us about Iraq’s role in 9/11?
Are these Republican scribes and senators not the same folks who went all-out for NAFTA and GATT and the WTO and MFN and PNTR for China, those brilliant trade deals that gave us $5 trillion in trade deficits, wiped out 6 million manufacturing jobs and 50,000 factories in one decade, and put us into permanent debt to China?
Are these not some of the same folks who backed the Bush-McCain amnesty and did nothing for 20 years, as millions of illegals invaded America? Now that all America is on fire, they too want to “build the dang fence.”
Are not the National Review and Weekly Standard scribblers and their neocon comrades of the mainstream media not now drumming up another war for Americans to fight, against Iran?
Are these not the same folks who went along with No Child Left Behind and the biggest run-up in social spending since Great Society days?
Beltway Republicans say they have learned their lesson. But the tea party folks and conservatives who vaulted O’Donnell to victory are saying: You had your chance. Now, move aside for new leaders.
Why is the tea party wrong — and the establishment right?
The first tea party rebellion was the Barry Goldwater movement. When it triumphed at the Cow Palace, Nelson Rockefeller denounced the movement as riddled with radicals, baited the Goldwater people at the convention and refused to endorse the nominee.
A decade later, Vice President Rockefeller got his payback, when conservatives demanded that President Ford drop him off the ticket as the price of renomination. Ford agreed.
In its contemptuous response to O’Donnell’s victory, the GOP establishment of today looked like nothing so much as the Rockefeller Republican establishment of yesteryear. Its time is coming, too.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. See his website.