By Scott Galupo, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
For all the grief I tend to direct at Tea Partyers, I’ll say this: They seem to be exerting a rightward pull on the electorate that, 15 or 20 years ago, Republicans could only have dreamed of. According to the latest Real Clear Politics polling averages, former Rep. Pat Toomey is running ahead of both Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania Senate race.
That’s simply extraordinary.
Under normal circumstances, party leaders on both sides tend to recruit and run candidates with an eye toward competitiveness and a healthy sense of electoral practicality: The GOP tolerates pro-choicers in California and the Northeast, and in 2006, Democrats—at long last—recognized the necessity of running candidates like North Carolina’s Rep. Heath Shuler, who’s pro-life.
For the longest time, it meant that Republicans had to put up with “Republicans in Name Only” like Arlen Specter. (Recall, for example, Rick Santorum’s nose-held endorsement of the Pennsylvania senator over Toomey in 2004.) The assumption was that Toomey could not win a statewide election—a valid assumption in 2004. No longer.
In short, this is the rare moment where Republicans can run maximally conservatives candidates and still win elections. To paraphrase Dennis Rodman, they can be as bad as they wanna be.
Does this lead to a “purge”-like atmosphere, where the likes of Utah Sen. Bob Bennett—not nearly as squishy as Specter—are booted out of office? I suppose it does. But if you’re looking to form an effective governing coalition after election day, as a practical matter it helps when your caucus isn’t riddled and cracked with ideological strayers.
With electoral prospects so auspicious, why wouldn’t Republicans choose the more conservative candidate?
The only proviso I’d add here is that the American electorate’s mood could swing violently against such a conservative coalition. It was only four short years, after all, from 2006 to today—and, as I and countless others have written before, Americans are no more prepared to accept real entitlement reform than they were to accept Obamacare.
In the meantime, it’s shaping up to be a stunning year for conservatives at the ballot box.