When facing a tsunami, what do you do? Pray, and tell yourself stories. I am not privy to the Democrats’ private prayers, but I do hear the stories they’re telling themselves. The new meme is that there’s a civil war raging in the Republican party. The tea party will wreck it from within and prove to be the Democrats’ salvation.
I don’t blame anyone for seeking a deus ex machina when about to be swept out to sea. But this salvation du jour is flimsier than most.
In fact, the big political story of the year is the contrary: that a spontaneous and quite anarchic movement with no recognized leadership or discernible organization has been merged with such relative ease into the Republican party.
The tea party could have become Perot ’92, an anti-government movement that spurned the Republicans, went third party, and cost George H. W. Bush reelection, ending twelve years of Republican rule. Had the tea party gone that route, it would have drained the Republican party of its most mobilized supporters and deprived Republicans of the sweeping victory that awaits them on November 2.
Instead, it planted its flag within the party and, with its remarkable energy, created the enthusiasm gap. Such gaps are measurable. This one is a chasm. This year’s turnout for the Democratic primaries (as a percentage of eligible voters) was the lowest ever recorded. Republican turnout was the highest since 1970.
True, Christine O’Donnell’s nomination in Delaware may cost the Republicans an otherwise safe seat (and possibly control of the Senate), and Sharron Angle in Nevada is running only neck and neck with an unpopular Harry Reid. On balance, however, the tea-party contribution is a large net plus, with its support for such strong candidates as Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Joe Miller of Alaska, and Mike Lee of Utah. Even Rand Paul, he of the shaky start in Kentucky, sports an eight-point lead.
Nonetheless, some Democrats have convinced themselves that they have found the issue with which to salvage 2010. “President Obama’s political advisers,” reports the New York Times, “are considering a range of ideas, including national advertisements, to cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by tea party extremists.”