Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One Day Later, Where Is the GOP Triumphalism About November? *CRICKETS*

John Boehner must have been working on his tan; he was nowhere to be seen after last night’s election results. Mitch McConnell issued a muted statement which was the equivalent of a full-bore run for the tall grass. Eric Cantor drew the short straw and was trotted out to say: “I do think that we’re going to win the majority. But last night is evidence that we can’t take things for granted and we’ve got our work cut out for us.” This is what’s known in parliamentary parlance as a “vote of confidence” in the party’s success which, by dint of being invoked, actually means a vote of no-confidence.

Things didn’t get any better at the Ministry of Truth, a.k.a. Fox ‘News’, where mini-brother Neil Cavuto informed RNC Chairman Michael Steele that “everybody hates you,” wondering whether there’s “bad blood” between the Teabagger Proles and the GOP. This is the context: Yesterday’s elections in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Arkansas were the idiot punditocracy’s last chance before the November mid-terms to pontificate, prognosticate, and extrapolate on the national implications of local elections. In Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary, Teabagger candidate “Ayn” Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, trounced what’s-his-name handpicked by GOP Caudillo Mitch McConnell, in a clear repudiation of so-called Washington “insiders.”

The fact that Paul lives up to his namesake was a little-known semi-secret (the national media wanted the Teabagger candidate to win, it helps the bottom line, so they’re ecstatic) that when revealed instantly made Dem opponent Jack Conway a tough competitor and put the seat in play in ways a conventional Republican candidate might not. You see, Mr. Paul favors eliminating the Departments of Education and Agriculture, privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and repealing the civil rights protections that make it illegal, say, for a private diner not to serve African Americans at the lunch counter, or for that matter, to discriminate against any person on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin. Whoops. Mr. Paul might have Glenn Beck in his corner but has anyone checked Beck’s ratings lately?!

Onto Pennsylvania, where the idiot punditocracy and the RNC were having premature orgasms in anticipation of a Republican pickup of deceased John Murtha’s 12th Congressional District, which went for McCain in 2008 and where the well-financed Republican candidate Tim Burns polled ahead of former Murtha aide Mark Critz. The RNC nationalized the election, running anti-Pelosi, anti-Obama, anti-healthcare ads while Critz focused on jobs and local issues. Critz won going away. Oops.

In the Democratic Senate primary, Joe Sestak running as a genuine liberal Democrat bucked the party machine in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as the entire Democratic Party establishment from the President to the Governor on down to ward leaders. Sestak beat party switcher Arlen Specter, who became a Democrat because he could not beat ultra-conservative Pat Toomey in the Teabagger-packed Republican primary. Despite the President’s arm-twisting to make him drop out, Sestak hung in there and beat Specter going away. Uh-Oh. Sestak polls closer to Toomey than Specter did. In the 12th, the conservative Republican lost badly to a Democratic moderate. Sestak was the liberal alternative preferred by Democratic voters as the “genuine” Democrat, despite Specter’s liberal leanings to appeal to primary voters. In the end, the perceived genuine Democratic brand won resoundingly statewide.

Finally in Arkansas, a progressive grassroots-funded campaign got behind Lt. Governor Bill Halter and dealt corporate shill Blanche Lincoln a near-fatal blow, forcing her into a runoff after neither candidate received 50 percent or more of the vote in a three-way race. Halter finished a point or two behind Lincoln (mid-40s) and figures to finish her off in the runoff, despite her backing by the hated, corporate-identified Chamber of Commerce, Big Oil, and Wall Street. Even Bubba Clinton can’t save her. This was a victory for progressive Democratic politics and a message to President Obama that he’s strayed off-course by turning his back on the people who got him elected. The infuriating spectacle of Senate Democrats, in particular, selling out to corporate interests and watering down healthcare, jobs bills, financial reform, mobilized progressive forces to defeat those who betrayed core Democratic principles. Lincoln was up first. If and when Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Joe Lieberman stand for election they will face the ire of the progressive-labor coalition, and will go down to defeat.

The Republican establishment, in the person of Mitch McConnell, was a big loser in these contests. They have been co-opted by the Teabaggers in a schism that is reminiscent of the chaos afflicting the Democratic Party in the 1860 election, pitching a fractured Southern party against an organized Union Northern “Republican” Party united behind Abe Lincoln. In that election, the Democrats fielded three slates of candidates against Lincoln, one being a semi-independent party, the Constitutional Democrats, older, similar to the Tea Party movement. They also advertised themselves as a movement to save the party and the nation by harking back to our founding principles.

Stephen A. Douglas, the “establishment” Democratic candidate was incapable of uniting the party, after their philosophical and policy differences surrounding the issue of the day, slavery, became irreconcilable. The Republicans were the liberal, even radical party of its day -– (sorry “Party of Lincoln” GOP dreamers, that’s not been happening since Teddy Roosevelt bolted and ran for president under the Progressive [third] Party banner). Lincoln’s Republicans were much like today’s Democratic Party, with its north-northeastern base, its Blue Dog-DLC and Progressive-Labor wings in a constant tug-of-war to pull the party in either direction. The radical (liberal) Republicans represented by Lincoln rival William H. Seward, a fiery abolitionist from New York, caused tension within the ranks. But the party united behind Lincoln and ran a national campaign in which Lincoln’s proxies were matched to the local electorate. Seward campaigned among the radicals while others popular with more conservative voters emphasized those Lincoln policies that would best appeal to them. The result was never in doubt. The fractured Democrats were crushed and Lincoln was swept into office by his Republicans.

Today’s Tea Party movements have much in common with the fractured Democrats of 1860, especially the Constitutionalists. Their failure to run fusion tickets spelled ultimate doom for the party. Today we see the same kinds of eruptions and schisms in the ranks: In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist was forced to run as an independent by Tea Party Marco Rubio’s insurgency from the right. Crist is likely to win that contest, especially in light of the Gulf oil spill catastrophe, where as governor he can be much more proactive in dealing with the crisis. Given the cold shoulder rejection of the Republican establishment, Crist will likely caucus with the Democrats as an “independent” along with two other “independents.” The Dems will take these “independents” under their big tent, any time. In Kentucky, Ron Paul is so out of the Republican mainstream, never mind American politics in general, that his presence in the race against a strong Democrat makes that seat a better than 50-50 chance of a Democratic pickup. In Utah the Teabaggers rejected a distinguished conservative senator, Bob Bennett, in favor of no-name backbenchers backed by the Teabaggers who took over a nonrepresentative party convention. Sure, it’s a one-party state, but the defeat of a senator with decades of seniority weakens the party’s effectiveness nationally.

These are but the tip of the iceberg in the Tea Party movement’s Astroturf/corporate-bankrolled/grassroots-funded assault on the traditional Republican Party establishment. Not to speak of the open divisions within the Tea Party movement itself, which is a loose agglomeration of groups with common, general goals, but very different internal dynamics and beliefs. For one thing, the libertarian faction of the Tea Party has little in common with the corporate-backed Astroturf Freedomworks of Dick Cheney, whose principal aim is to be a boots-on-the-ground corporate counterforce to the genuine grassroots that elected Barack Obama. Already, tensions have bubbled to the surface between the disparate Tea Party groups. Finally, these loose Tea Party factions, and their uneasy, often hostile, association with the Republican Party, have not shown the kind of organizational structure that wins elections. The evidence is slim to none. And that does not portend well for Republican Party prospects in November.

It’s likely, given historical trends, that the Democratic Party will lose seats and see their majorities diminished in the House and Senate. It’s unlikely, however, that the Democratic Party will lose control of either chamber, unless outside events intervene. The Republicans are more worried about survival under intense pressure from the Tea Party on their right flank, which threatens an establishment rout.

The Democrats are poised and well-positioned to capitalize from the volcanic divisions in the Republican Party caused by the Tea Party, bubbling just beneath the surface, threatening to erupt in a major way this November. The end result might not augur well for the Republican “brand,” much less for the future of the Republican Party itself.

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