The Tea Party candidates beat the Republican establishment last night, most notably Christine O'Donnell in Delaware who received the Sarah Palin stamp of approval. What does this mean for the November elections? Why did voters show up to vote for someone with questionable skills, few endorsements, and a checkered background?
To answer to the November election question, I turned to Nate Silver. He hadn't foreseen the O'Donnell win and eats some crow on this score.
… Ms. O’Donnell’s victory — like Scott Brown’s in Massachusetts earlier
this year, or like Hillary Clinton’s in the New Hampshire primary two
years ago — was an emphatic reminder that voters write the script. The
rest of us self-proclaimed political professionals – journalists
and pollsters, activists and bundlers, lobbyists and party-leaders,
presidents and senators — are just the stagehands.
Silver thinks that Republicans should do very well in November, but these Tea Party candidates will have a harder time getting elected in the general election than establishment Republicans. So, good news for Democrats. Kos sent out gleeful tweets last night.
My second question is a lot trickier. Why did Republicans chose the Tea Party over the establishment last night? Keep in mind that primary voters are more extreme than the larger group of people who vote in November. Still, we have a sizable group of angry populists. For some reason, they are located in the Republican party. There doesn't seem to be the equivalent in the Democratic Party.
The Tea Party voters aren't voting for a particular program or policy; the Tea Party movement isn't really about ideology or issues. There is no central organizing structure. Palin stepped in the void and became the face of the movement, but she isn't running the show. They are channeling the deep resentment that a sector of America feels about their diminishing incomes, the insecure economy, and the marginal status in the country. As others gets wealthier, they get poorer. The unions no longer protect them. Their jobs are disappearing. This vote is about populist anger.
Democrats, who have traditionally represented these groups, could step in and get those voters, but I don't think they can or they should. Obama with his celebrity friends and his fancy education isn't one of them. Bill Clinton would probably have had a better shot at it, because Bill is a Bubba. Besides the Tea Party activists aren't entirely playing with a full deck; their anger is too hot to make them rational. It wouldn't serve the Democratic cause to have Sarah Palin in their yard.
Probably the biggest winners last night were the professional pundits who now have something to talk about.