Steve Singiser at Daily Kos has a great piece about the possible hamstringing of the Republicans by the tea baggers. He describes the recent NY-23 race to make his central point:
In one hand, the Republican party funded the Scozzafava candidacy with independent expenditures that may well have topped a million dollars. In the other hand was the steadily increasing number of Republican “regulars” eager to embrace the third-party insurgent conservative, Doug Hoffman. It culminated in the campaign’s final week, when no less a Republican figure than national party chairman Michael Steele essentially abandoned his own nominee, saying that a Hoffman victory would be just fine by him, since Hoffman, too, was a registered Republican.
This is a microcosm of the problem confronting the GOP. They want to harness the potential political energy and power of the “tea party” movement. But they are very wary of ceding their party to that movement. Thus, the often absurd dance of the Republican Party, which in one breath embraces the teabaggers while in the next breath endeavoring hard to keep them at arms length. [emphasis added]
I have to make the usual caveat that the elections are still a long way away and anything can happen. Still, as things stand now, this could well be how things play out.
First, the obvious point is that the party establishment have painted themselves into a corner: they are increasingly reliant on a small segment of the population and, in pandering to this rump, they alienate moderates and independents who could otherwise be persuaded to vote Republican. This is largely a zero sum game: when they move further to the right, they appease the base but turn off the middle persuadables and when they move a little back to the center, they attract some of the fence sitters but make the base righteously and terribly angry in the process.
They know this is not a tenable long term position to be in and are busy co opting and softening the tea baggers, but that’s a long term project. In the short run, they think they will be able to hold the Rube Goldberg contraption that is their current coalition together long enough to win great victories in 2010.
They believe this is possible because the progressive and liberal base of the Democratic party is not as energized as the rightwing base of the Republican party.
While it is true that progressives and liberals are, rightfully I believe, dismayed, very few are disillusioned. Most of us knew Obama was center-left at best. That doesn’t mean progressives are happy, just that they are not all that surprised.
Rightwingers and Republicans at sites like redstate.com take it as an article of faith that the progressive/liberal base is practically in shock, disillusioned beyond redemption at their failed ‘messiah.’ This is inaccurate.
Despite the picture painted by some Democrats and many in the media, progressives are supremely patient and willing to compromise. As the elections draw closer, there will be endless comparisons to 1994. This is not 1994.
Aided by the especially self defeating Republican absolutist opposition to health care reform, various elements of the liberal/progressive base along with vast swaths of independent persuadables will not only turn away from Republicans but will actually vote for Democrats.
The Democrats were already planning to run on an argument that voting Republican would be voting to turn back the clock on a little loved decade. And now, the Republican pledge of total reform repeal will make that astoundingly easy to argue.
And this isn’t even accounting for the rightwing Republicans civil wars that will break out in primaries and over various issues before then. It will be public and it will be messy. Democrats and lefties will do all they can to fan the flames, not least by making Republicans and rightwingers take an explicit stand on total repeal of health care reform. Immigration will be another flash point.
Remember, the redstaters and their ilk think of NY-23 as a victory because it forced the ‘party elites’ to endorse a teabagger, even if retroactively. I doubt the ‘elites’ view it the same way.
Update: redstate chief Erickson is right on cue:
Trust me, the people who treat pro-lifers with the most distain [sic] are not pro-choice leftists, but leadership Republicans who want their money and vote, but otherwise wish they’d shut the heck up.
And that situation is going to continue until conservatives decide to take a Republican scalp in a GOP primary.
Allow me to recommend Bob Bennett (R-UT). In fact, if conservatives really do want to be taken seriously by the GOP and not be seen as just puppets for leadership, defeating Bob Bennett should be the number one agenda item of every conservative in the United States of America, even surpassing the desire to see Marco Rubio beat Charlie Crist. [emphasis in original]