In this morning’s Chicago Sun Times, Carol Martin brings the argument that I have been making for almost two months into the mainstream Chicago Press. Last night’s victory in Massachusetts is clear-cut evidence that Republicans can win in traditionally Democratic leaning states IF the far right does not seek to ensure that the GOP runs only what they believe to be “pure” conservatives. As I have stated before, Mark Kirk is tailor-made to win the independent voters in Illinois that Scott Brown improbably won last night in Massachusetts.
But the right’s silence in the Massachusetts race may well have been a product of circumstance. Even two weeks ago, to the average, nay, even the obsessive follower of politics, the notion that a Republican might win Scott Brown’s seat would have been ludicrous. Five days ago on this website, David Frum hardly seemed optimistic of Brown’s chances come election day. And how could he be? Republicans hadn’t held a Massachusetts’ Senate seat in over three decades. Even ten days ago, when it was clear that the race was far more competitive than it ever should have been had the Dems fielded anything resembling a competent candidate (those deserving of the aforementioned label do not utter the following phrase: “Stand outside of Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?”),most insiders still thought the race would end with a fairly easy Democratic victory.
The point is that the far right never got worked up about Brown because up until about three days ago, most rational observers on the outside looking in didn’t think Brown had a chance to win. Last night’s victory is not evidence, as fellow contributor Tim Mak suggests, that the Tea Party movement has become less dogmatic or that the movement has come to the realization that its cause is far better off with “impure” Republicans than no Republicans at all. In reality, organizations like the Club for Growth and the major Tea Party corporations….(err grass roots movements) took almost no interest in what sort of candidate Republicans ran in Massachusetts at all, since they, like everyone else except Scott Brown’s campaign and the staff of the Republican Senatorial Campaign, thought the race was just a formality. By the time the race really came into the national consciousness as a potential GOP win, Scott Brown had already been nominated. Once the nomination occurred, the Tea Party people and those that desire to eliminate from the ranks of the Republican party any scintilla of “liberal” were faced with a choice between an impure Republican and what must, in the eyes of many of the tea partiers, appeared to look a great deal like a female version of the devil. When faced with this choice, these groups did a brilliant job of defeating “the devil” and electing the moderate.
Where the purists cause problems for Republicans is not in general elections. In the general elections, activism is a good thing and Scott Brown’s victory is evidence of this. The purists cause problems in the primaries themselves. The reason Republicans won this race was precisely the fact that the purists thought Massachusetts looked like a waste of time and energy, so they took no notice when the party nominated Scott Brown, who, as David Frum pointed out earlier this week, is more liberal than Dede Scozzafava, whom the purists forced out in New York. The NY-23 catastrophe, along with current races in Florida, and to a lesser extent, Illinois show that the tea partiers and the purists hurt the party’s chances for victory through their active role in the primary process. If there is a lesson, it should be that in the Northeast, where rank and file conservatives cannot and will not win, Republicans must find a way to limit the role that the hard core conservatives have in the nominating process and unleash them in the general election. When the opponent is a Democrat, then the “base” is a powerful asset. It is when the opponent is a Republican that we get into trouble.