Back when Christine O’Donnell beat Mike Castle and Joe Miller defeated Lisa Murkowski in the Republican Senatorial primaries in Delaware and Alaska, I acknowledged that I probably would have voted for the establishment candidates on a calculation that they would be more likely to win in November. I added, however, that their defeat might contain a silver lining.
Castle and Murkowski are what I call “patronage Republicans.” They are popular because they bring home the bacon. I doubt that Murkowski would have campaigned against Obamacare, and I am confident that Castle would not have done so. It was my view then – as it is my view now – that politics depends on public sentiment and that the one sure way to lose an argument is to fail to make it. Whatever defects as candidates O’Donnell, Miller, Sharron Angle, and Ken Buck may have had, you could rely on them to make the argument. And sometimes, as Abraham Lincoln showed in 1858, you can lose an election while articulating an argument that will win in the end.
If you are inclined to regret the nomination of O’Donnell, Miller, Angle, and Buck, consider what Mickey Kaus has to say today about the defeat of the DREAM Act in the Senate:
The Tea Parties did it. Not only had they threatened establishment Republicans with primary opposition, but they had actually beaten one ... two ... three of them. Nothing like fresh heads on pikes to, er, reinforce a persuasive (to my mind) policy argument. Score one for losing Delaware Tea Partier Christine O'Donnell, who knocked off establishment pick Rep. Mike Castle (who voted for DREAM) in the GOP primary. Even score one for Alaskan Joe Miller. He probably alienated Republican Lisa Murkowski by beating her in the primary, and ultimately she won reelection anyway as a write-in. But that's just one lost Senate vote. By my count, Miller's primary coup may have helped gain around ten votes by terrifying GOP incumbents who might otherwise have been tempted by the prospect of a feel-good, bipartisan, MSM-approved pro-DREAM stand.
I would add that the same analysis applies to Mitch McConnell’s ability to hold his caucus together and force Harry Reid to withdraw the $1.1 trillion omnibus budget bill this past week. As I argued some time ago, political parties tend to oscillate between two extremes – a dedication to patronage and a devotion to principles. In the right circumstances, little harm comes from a desire to bring home the bacon. But, in a crisis, this country needs principled partisans. The Tea Party has done this country a world of good.