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.”
Sweet irony. Fear-over-hope rides again, this time with Democrats in the saddle warning darkly about “the Republican tea party” (Joe Biden). Message: Vote Democratic and save the nation from a Visigoth mob with a barely concealed tinge of racism.
First, this is so at variance with reality that it’s hard to believe even liberals believe it. The largest tea-party event yet was the recent Glenn Beck rally on the Mall. The hordes descending turned out to be several hundred thousand cheerful folks in what, by all accounts, had the feel of a church picnic. And they left the place nearly spotless — the first revolution in recorded history that collected its own trash.
Second, the general public is fairly evenly split in its views of the tea party. It experiences none of the horror that liberals do — and think others should. Moreover, the electorate supports by two to one the tea-party signature issues of smaller government and lower taxes.
Third, you would hardly vote against the Republican in your state just because there might be a (perceived) too-conservative Republican running somewhere else. How would, say, Paul running in Kentucky deter someone from voting for Mark Kirk in Illinois? Or, to flip the parties, will anyone in Nevada refuse to vote for Harry Reid because Chris Coons, once a self-described “bearded Marxist,” is running as a Democrat in Delaware?
Fourth, what sane Democrat wants to nationalize an election at a time of 9.6 percent unemployment and such disappointment with Obama that just this week several of his own dreamy 2008 supporters turned on him at a cozy town hall? The Democrats’ only hope is to run local campaigns on local issues. That’s how John Murtha’s former district director hung on to his boss’s seat in a special election in Pennsylvania in May.
Newt Gingrich had to work hard — getting Republican candidates to sign the Contract with America — to nationalize the election that swept Republicans to victory in 1994. A Democratic anti-tea-party campaign would do that for the Republicans — nationalize the election, gratis — in 2010. As a very recent former president — now preferred (Public Policy Polling, September 1) in bellwether Ohio over the current one by 50 percent to 42 percent — once said: Bring ’em on.
— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 the Washington Post Writers Group.