Friday, September 17, 2010

Has Sarah Palin Saved Republican Party?

Doug Brady - A thoughtful article by Paul Goldman with the above title appears in today's Washington Post. Many beltway Republicans have been trashing Tea Party candidates and those who support them such as Governor Palin and Jim DeMint. Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer are only the most recent examples. These insurgent candidates, claim the beltway denizens, have hurt the Republican's chances to regain control of Congress in November.

Apparently the thought of competitive primaries in which the lowly "commoners" are given a real choice is abhorrent to the DC elites. But America is still a democracy, not an aristocracy. Slow Joe Scarborough, in one of his typically loud and obtuse statements at MSDNC, summed up beltway sentiment toward Tea Party candidate successes when he proclaimed "I blame Sarah Palin" for...well, something.

The general thrust of the establishment's argument, when you boil it down, is that the Republican Party would be in peachy shape if not for the unwashed Tea Party rebels. In other words, the Republican Party needs Governor Palin and the Tea Party rabble with whom she associates like I need a stone in my shoe. In his piece, Goldman looks at the influence of the Tea Party movement on the Republican primaries in a far different light.

What if, Goldman ponders, Governor Palin had encouraged Tea Party candidates to take the third party route instead of competing in Republican Primaries? She certainly could have. Throughout the summer and fall of 2009 when the Tea Party movement was coming together, many thought that's exactly what they would do. If they had, how would the Republican Party be expected to fare in the November mid-terms? Dismally, I suspect.

A recent CBS poll pegged Republican Congressional Approval at 20%. To be sure, the sampling methodology employed by CBS was laughably biased in favor of Democrats, but even Rasmussen finds that 75% of Republican voters believe their GOP representatives in Washington are out of touch. And yet the GOP is enjoying record leads in the generic ballot and enthusiasm gap. Indeed at the moment it's conventional wisdom that Republicans will sweep to huge, perhaps historic, victories in November. What explains this contradiction?

Goldman argues that it's in large part due to Governor Palin's decision to encourage Tea Party candidates and other restless conservatives to remain within the Republican Party via competitive primaries and not take the third party route. Given the state of the Republican Party, particularly in Washington, Goldman has an excellent point, although I think the late 1970s provide a better analogy than the 1912 analogy Goldman uses. All of the energy and enthusiasm on the Republican side is with the insurgent candidates, not the establishment (who are doing little more than riding the wave generated by the insurgents).

In the 1970s when beltway Republicans had similarly lost their way, Reagan followed the same approach. Reagan understood then as Palin understands now that the best way to revitalize the conservative movement and return America to its constitutional roots is to retake and reform what should be the home of conservatives: the Republican Party. After the sweeping Democrat victories of 2006 and 2008 (as in 1974 and 1976), there was talk that the Republican Party may become extinct and go the way of the Whigs. Not anymore.

The inescapable conclusion is that rather than "blaming" Governor Palin for upsetting the GOP apple cart, the GOP should be thanking her. By encouraging Tea Party candidates to compete from within the party rather than from without, the party has been infused with energy and excitement that was unimaginable less than two years ago. Sure, some establishment feathers have been ruffled, but they needed to be. Ironically, Governor Palin may well have saved the party that has yet to fully accept her.

Excerpts from Goldman's article follow:

Delaware Republicans have proved it: Sarah Palin is the best asset the GOP has right now.

There has been a lot of carping about Republicans' prospects for November since Palin-backed candidate Christine O'Donnell defeated longtime Delaware officeholder Mike Castle for the Republican Senate nomination Tuesday. But contrary to conventional wisdom, the 2008 vice presidential nominee has kept the party strong. How? She has kept the Tea Party faithful inside the GOP tent. Had she instead encouraged these disillusioned voters to mount third-party challenges across the 2010 general-election ballot, dozens of Democratic incumbents, not to mention challengers, would be smiling like Woodrow Wilson in 1912.


Consider: If Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck held Palin's political clout, they might very well have used this power to encourage independent conservative challenges, figuring the resulting GOP chaos would redound to their benefit. Palin rejected this course, even though it probably would have been in her political interest.

Consider also that Palin has received no credit for being loyal to a party establishment that continues to treat her with maximum low regard. Americans have never sent to the White House an individual rejected four years earlier as a vice presidential nominee. So it is doubtful that Palin stuck with the GOP because she hoped to be rewarded with the chance to lead it in 2012. Think about it: A lesser person would have opted for payback, not party.

That the GOP establishment fails to appreciate the debt it owes her is reflective of the elitist outlook that is contributing to Tea Party activism nationwide.


Simply put, Palin started as Tonto but has become the Lone Ranger. Instead of fading out last summer, she remained strong and stood by her party. She has become a bridge between the old Republican guard and the growing right-wing dissatisfaction with not just Democrats but also Republican officeholders. Palin's ability to advocate for using the GOP, not a third party, to channel this angst has allowed Republican voter anger to boil, yet not boil over.

Should Republicans run up the score in November, Sarah Palin will deserve a lot of credit she will never get.

I'm not as pessimistic as Goldman on that last point. If, as expected, the GOP has a big night on November 2nd Governor Palin will get (and deserve) a huge amount of the credit. The GOP establishment and their candidate may try to diminish her role, but their ability to pull the wool over our eyes is long gone (along with the candidacies of Dede Scozzafava and Mike Castle). The Republican Establishment may not appreciate or understand the debt they owe her, but the rest of us do. Read Goldman's entire article here. It's not without the obligatory Washington Post snark, but surprisingly fair for the Post.

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