As the poet Mick Jagger once said, and as the Republican Party establishment learned again last night, “You can’t always get what you want.” And they learned you can’t always get what you need, either.
In Mike Castle and Rick Lazio, the Republican Party saw their preferred candidates lose last night and has now seen their favored candidate go down in 11 statewide primaries across the country this year. Instead of the more electable candidates with broader appeal that they wanted, the Republican Party ended up with nominees who would ban reproductive choice even for rape and incest victims, eliminate the Department of Education, and end Social Security and Medicare as we know them. And that doesn’t include the newly-minted Republican candidate whose emails contain abject racism and video clips of bestiality.
In Delaware, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party pushed aside Rep. Mike Castle, who was considered such a lock at least one prominent national new outlets referred to him as Senator Castle. And rather than a moderate candidate who has won statewide office a dozen times, Republicans got a nominee in Christine O’Donnell who will run on fiscal responsibility but who can’t even manage to pay her own taxes and is being sued for not paying her bills. Even the NRSC said O'Donnell has a “disturbing pattern of dishonest behavior.” O’Donnell proudly proclaims she is not “middle of the road” and goes out and proves it by opposing life-saving stem cell research and opposing a woman’s right to chose no matter the circumstances. Indeed, O’Donnell is so extreme that only 31% of Delaware voters think she is fit to hold any office. Not among that small minority is the Chairman of the Delaware Republican Party, who said O’Donnell is “not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware.” As a result, 44% of Castle primary voters say they will vote for Democratic Nominee Chris Coons.
In New York, Republicans emerged with perhaps the most extreme and controversial gubernatorial candidate in recent history as the standard bearer for their party. Rather than a tried candidate with broad name appeal in Rick Lazio, Republicans got Carl Paladino, whose name is best known in the “From” line of dozens of emails with racist and misogynistic slurs and that contain clips of lewd sex acts, including acts of bestiality. Although Paladino’s personal behavior is beyond troubling, it’s how he would translate those beliefs into policy that is truly scary. The Republican nominee for Governor of New York has proposed turning state prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients so “[he can] teach them personal hygiene.” And while he wants to fill prisons with struggling New Yorkers hit by the recession, he has promised to gut the state budget and, in so doing, put 60,000 more New Yorkers out of work.
And in New Hampshire, while Kelly Ayotte scraped by on the skin of her teeth, she did irreparable damage to her brand and her candidacy by moving far to the right to stave off a Tea Party challenge. Ayotte abandoned the fight for the middle in New Hampshire going from supporting efforts to curb climate change to questioning its very existence. Ayotte went from arguing that arrests of undocumented workers by state troopers were unconstitutional to applauding the divisive Arizona law that relies on state officers to enforce immigration law. Ayotte now even calls for Roe v. Wade to be overturned and for a repeal of health care reform.
Instead of a candidate with broad appeal that attracted the support of the Republican Party establishment, Ayotte ran so far to the right that she will be rightfully painted as just as extreme as the Tea Party opponent she defeated. And not only will she be burdened with positions far outside the mainstream, her politically motivated shift will also burden her with diminished credibility.
Last night’s developments cap off an election cycle that saw far right wing Republicans chase a sitting U.S. Senator (Arlen Specter) and a sitting Governor (Charlie Crist) from the Party; saw the defeat of the Republican Party’s preferred candidates in Senate races from Nevada, Connecticut and Kentucky to Colorado and Delaware; saw the Republican’s preferred candidates for Governor’s races lose in New York, Colorado and Florida; saw incumbent Republican Senators lose to fringe candidates in Alaska and Utah and saw a right wing Republican Congressman in South Carolina lose to a farther right wing Republican challenger in the primary.
What’s clear from last night is that the far right wing takeover of the GOP, and the impotence of the party leadership to do anything about it, has Republicans emerging from their primary process deeply divided and with deeply flawed candidates. As a result, and despite Republicans’ hopes that this election would be a referendum on the national mood, the deeply flawed candidates Republicans nominated yesterday, just like the ones they nominated previously, including Joe Miller, Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Linda McMahon – ensure that voters will be making a choice between the candidates before them this fall. Given how bloodied these candidates were by their primaries, and the Republican resources depleted in those races, Democratic candidates are in a stronger position today than they were yesterday to upset the conventional wisdom this fall.