The Tea Party Rocks GOP Primaries

Last week was good for the Tea Party, but a potentially devastating one for the GOP. Two Tea Party candidates emerged victorious in primary races over their more moderate Republican colleges. Carl Paladino edged out Rick Lazio to become New York's GOP gubernatorial candidate and, more significantly, Christine O'Donnell upset Mike Castle in the race for Delaware's Republican senate nomination.

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Tea Party senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell emerged victorious in the Delaware primaries

This was a great display of strength for an organization that was written off as a joke by many political observers - myself included. It is clear that the Tea Party possesses top-notch infrastructure, formidable financial resources and an easy-to-understand (albeit alarmingly misguided) message of lower taxes, less government and America-first nativism. It will be a major player in Republican politics for years to come.
Despite its recent successes the Tea Party could also spell doomsday for the Republicans in the 2010 general election and beyond. America might be a center-right nation, but it is not a far-right nation and the Tea Party represents a major step in that direction - even for a plurality of card-carrying Republicans. The victory of O'Donnell, a political novice with a history of social extremism, false public statements and shady finances over Castle, a long-standing and respected senator is a testament to the rightward velocity of the GOP.
It has been suggested that the Tea Party can moderate its more extreme elements to capture the votes of a majority of Americans. But how can a movement defined by ideological purity moderate itself without losing its core base? The Tea Party's extremism is what gives the movement its energy and the devotion of its supporters. 
The 2008 elections were a preview of the GOP's current predicament, when Barack Obama won a majority of voters from almost every demographic in America, with the exception of older and low-income whites. Since 2006, the party's tent has become even smaller in a nation that has continued to become more diverse - ethnically and ideologically. 
In order to win a national election the GOP will have to secure votes from beyond its traditional base. Branching out in that regard will require compromises the Tea Party will not tolerate. It's one thing to win primaries in Delaware, but quite another to win the generals - let alone presidential elections. Where will the votes come from?
How will the Tea Party help the GOP get Latino votes by rallying against immigration - legal and illegal alike? How it will it capture the African-American votes by comparing the nation's first black president to Hitler and Mao? How will it co-opt independents and moderates while making it clear that independents, moderates and "impure" conservatives are not welcome in their country? Look at what happened to Charlie Crist, Mike Castle and Bob Bennett. It's definitely an issue when Republican candidates are too conservative for Karl Rove.
53% of Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2008. 45% approve of the job he is doing today. In Tea Party circles that number is below 20%. Many believe that he is not an American citizen, or closet Muslim harboring sympathies for Al-Qaeda. Those views may not be completely unacceptable in certain circles but they are definitely out of sync with mainstream America.
It's probably a bit too early to declare that the Democrats will retain control of the House and Senate this November. Likewise, it's premature to predict the death of the GOP via circular firing squads or death matches between the Tea Party and moderates. 
However, it is not too early to say that the emergence of the Tea Party represents a tremendous challenge for the GOP - in 2010 and beyond.
Contact Jeremy Berrington at realpolitikchicago@gmail.com
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