Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tea Party Losses in the Senate: Bad candidates or worth the risk?

Establishment-minded Republicans, like Karl Rove and Lindsey Graham, have been in the news pointing out that the reason why Tea Party favorites Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle and Ken Buck ran into so much trouble is because they were either (1) too conservative for the electorate whose votes they sought or (2) they were just bad candidates with bad campaigns. Or, both.

Lost in that message was the success of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Nikki Haley. How did such Tea Party conservatives do so well while equally conservative O’Donnell, Angle and Buck fare so poorly?  Was it really that the former group were better candidates? Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter, especially in the Senate, and here’s why:

The rules of Senate debate limit the power and authority of the majority party. If you’re reading this blog, you’re already politically astute enough to understand what a filibuster is and what it takes to invoke cloture. Because only one-third of the US Senate is up for election each cycle, the house is naturally more resistant to wave changes like that which occurred in 1994.

As a result, when your party is poised to make significant gains in a midterm election it makes sense to take some risks with ideologically better candidates than play the safe cards with politically better candidates. We already knew, or at least should have known, that the Republicans were unlikely to take the Senate outright. And even had we done so, the effect of the victory would have been largely symbolic. The minority Democrats would still have had enough votes to filibuster any major legislative measure.

So why put liberal Republicans like Mike Castle in the US Senate? He’s no conservative and would have been a natural target for Democrats pushing cap and trade and amnesty. Why run such a candidate, have him win, and then have him turn coats and vote with liberals?

Why not take a risk with a Christine O’Donnell who, while admittedly a long-shot politically, would have been a slam dunk vote for a conservative legislative agenda? She only lost by 27,000 votes or so, in a deep blue state. With a little luck and a little more support, who knows what could have happened there?

Why put party apparatchik Sue Lowden up for US Senate in Nevada? Would she have had a better shot at knocking off Harry Reid than Sharron Angle did? Perhaps, but why not take the risk of installing a bona fide conservative?

The risk versus reward ratio is so off the charts here that anyone making the argument that candidates like Castle or Lowder would have made a real difference is doing so from an establishment perspective, not a conservative one. If your goal is to change the ideological makeup of the US Senate, you understand that its worth taking a risk on a less-than sure bet, if that risk pays off by installing a bona fide conservative. And, the payoff for settling for someone with and “R” after their name just to have enough votes to change majority leaders and committee chairmen is nothing more than political expediency.

We’ve had enough of politically expedient, establishment Republicans.  They do more damage than good.  If we have a chance—even a long shot chance—of installing a real conservative in the Senate, we should take it.

We did, and I for one have no regrets.

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