Monday, September 13, 2010

A Few Questions about Delaware

Why do people continually compare the situation in Delaware to the Pennsylvania Republican primary battle of 2004? The theme of "true conservative" vs. RINO scum can be found in each (according to some), but the context is hugely different. Pat Toomey was a three-term member of Congress. More importantly, Pennsylvania had as its other senator Rick Santorum, one of the most conservative Republicans in the US Senate. So it was probable to think that the state might be able to elect someone more conservative to the seat in Pennsylvania. In Delaware, Mike Castle has been the only Republican elected to serve in Congress for over ten years. In the race for Castle's seat, which encompasses the whole district, the Democrat leads all Republican candidates by a big margin. Democrat Chris Coons also leads O'Donnell by a big amount, for whatever that's worth.

Why are people comparing this race to Nevada or Alaska? In both those races, the Republican---seemingly any Republican---was heavily favored. Angle and Miller are probably as "conservative" as O'Donnell (at least as our self-proclaimed conservative prophets have divined), but they have more of a record of public service (and that's without getting into other qualities of personal history). And Angle, in a state much more right-leaning than Delaware, is now in a very close struggle with Reid.

Why are people being read out of the conservative movement for supporting Castle? Many disagreements in the Delaware primary come down to differences in strategy. Many O'Donnell backers aver that it is better to lose this race than have a moderate win; many Castle backers think that a Republican who votes with you some of the time is better than a Democrat who almost never votes with you. These are not fundamental differences in principle, but different empirical evaluations of the race and how to better achieve the aims of conservatism. Having a different strategic plan should not make you an apostate from a political movement.

When is Joseph Cao getting primaried? After all, Cao actually once voted in favor of Obamacare (unlike Castle). Isn't he a RINO traitor? Why hasn't the Republican party just outright rejected him from the caucus? Sure he comes from a heavily Democratic district, but it's better to have a totally "pure" caucus of 177 (or 77 or 7) than a caucus with any compromises, right? Plenty of other names could be inserted for Cao's but the principle remains the same: if electability should not matter, if it is better to lose elections than settle on an "impure" candidate, then where's his arch-right Republican challenger?

Why do people keep talking about how Mike Castle will swerve to the left once he is elected because he'll supposedly be retiring and won't be responsible to the voters? Though this anxiety is understandable, you have to wonder what's been stopping Castle from being crazily left-wing. The voters of Delaware returned Joe Biden to the Senate for decades; would they really have ejected Castle for being too left-wing? And if Delaware Republicans were unhappy with Castle for being a far-out lefty, he could have easily jumped to the Democratic party (it's not as though Delaware Democrats would have objected to having him in the fold). Castle has been a central political figure in his state for decades, allowing him to move from one party to the other with fewer difficulties. So I don't think Castle's worries about electability were the only thing that kept him from being too leftist (that's if you don't think he isn't already somewhere to the left of Lenin, as some O'Donnell backers seem to believe).

Will O'Donnell's supporters stay with her after tomorrow? While O'Donnell has gotten a lot of press online and picked up a lot of nationwide conservative support, will those financial supporters and activists stay with her in the weeks to come? O'Donnell starts out well behind her Democratic opponent; in no poll has she ever cracked 42% against Coons. And she lacks Mike Castle's huge war chest. So it might take a lot of investment in money and energy for her to close the gap with Democrat Chris Coons. Conservative activists and donors will have to ask themselves whether it is better to invest in a longer-shot O'Donnell-Coons race or to spend their efforts to tip closer races elsewhere in the nation (such as Nevada).

What's bad about the establishment? I don't mean this question rhetorically: there is a lot that is objectionable about certain aspects of the establishment. However, this race has raised certain questions about the Tea Party's critique of the establishment. If the Tea Party's aim is merely to replace one corrupt establishment with another, with its own rigid dogma, sneering elitism, and politics-of-personal-destruction venom, then the movement loses, I think, considerable interest. The notion of the Tea Party as a bottom-up movement for individual liberty and pluralism---a valuable notion indeed---would seem to go against the strategy of hectoring attacks against an individual for not toeing the party line. And by "individual," I do not mean merely Castle but all of those who might have the temerity to support Castle on pragmatic grounds.

The primary battle will be over tomorrow, but some of the questions it raises---about strategy, about principles, about public rhetoric---will stay with us.

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