In early 2010, Karl Rove met with a trio of tea party activists in Delaware to ask them to support veteran Mike Castle in the Senate race. The meeting went badly. Instead the activists backed Christine O'Donnell, and delivered a list of "non-negotiable" demands to their state legislature. But they forgot someone....
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TGOP Backlash, Part III - Where's Fred? (Non-Cynical Saturday)
This week Morning Feature explores Will Bunch’s new book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama. Thursday we waded into the grass roots of today’s Tea Party Republicans. Yesterday we examined the astroturf: their corporate funding and media messiah. Today we conclude by asking if this political force of 2010 will still have legs in 2012 and beyond.
In 2008, Senator John McCain backed immigration reform including a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. This year Sen. McCain supports hearings on whether to change birthright citizenship in the Fourteenth Amendment. It is just one example of how activists have pulled the TGOP beyond the political fringe. They have pushed long-time leaders like Florida's Charlie Crist out of their party, and put radical insurgents like Kentucky's Rand Paul on the ballot. But can they win in 2010, let alone in 2012 and beyond?
A meeting in Delaware.
The tea party activists in southern Delaware were not pleased after their meeting with Karl Rove. The reasons Rove cited for supporting Mike Castle in the upcoming Senate primary were the very things they disliked, such as Castle's long record in government. The activists wanted to end the "Delaware consensus" that crossed party lines on major issues. They intended to shake things up, not only in Washington but also in Dover.
A few weeks after the meeting, when the Delaware legislature opened its 2010 session, the activists delivered a packet of demands for new legislation. A few focused on long-standing state issues, such as a measure allowing citizens to put initiatives on the ballot. Others seemed piped in from right-wing talk radio, such as replicating Arizona's unconstitutional anti-immigrant law.
"The demands listed are without compromise and are non-negotiable," the packet said. If the state legislature did not enact the laws, the activists said they would "push to have the citizen/voter taxpayers hold you accountable for your lack of due consideration."
The activists' tone was, Will Bunch argues, "the arrogance of the 84-Percent Bubble that the 9-12ers lived in." On their information island - an ideological ecosystem of talk radio and Faux Noise - they truly believed they were the majority in a state President Obama won by a 25-point landslide in 2008. When their candidate Christine O'Donnell won the TGOP Senate primary, Karl Rove was one of several TGOP leaders who thought she had no chance the general election. Recent polls show her trailing Democrat Chris Coons by 16 points.
A midterm anomaly: the 20% 'majority.'
While the TGOP will likely lose in deep-blue Delaware, they will score some victories next month in other parts of the country, despite a radical agenda that promises a return to the failed policies of the past decade. That will not, as some pundits insist, reflect the American people's disgust with President Obama and Democrats. Instead it will reflect a sad fact of midterm elections: on average, only about 38% of registered voters cast ballots in midterms.
The pollsters have focused on "likely voters" this year because most midterm elections are won with about 20% of registered voters. That is a majority of the 38% who usually cast ballots. The TGOP are only 25% according to most polls - some show them even smaller than that - but they and some pollsters believe enough of their 25% will turn out to carry the House and perhaps even the Senate.
But most polls are tightening as President Obama and other Democratic leaders take to the stump, and as OFA and state parties shift their GOTV campaigns into high gear. In his speech to the Gen44 Summit this week, President Obama said the outcome in 2010 will depend on whether we grassroots Democrats "are willing to work hard, and knock on doors and make phone calls, and call up your friends and neighbors and coworkers and family."
The forgotten man: Fred.
That last clause should sound familiar to Morning Feature readers. It's about someone we know: Fred, our archetypal median voter. As noted in our series on Fred Whispering, Fred gets his news from "friends, co-workers, neighbors, and other people he meets," the same list President Obama offered. The president asked us to Fred Whisper because the TGOP have ignored median voters. Fred doesn't like TGOP ideology, but the TGOP don't care. They hope to win with their base alone, a '20% majority.' That's why they're running on such a radical platform. Their strategy may gain a few seats in a midterm when only 38% of registered voters turn out, but probably not as many as right-leaning pollsters project. And running to a radical base is a sure loser in a presidential election year, when turnout averages 60%.
But that's no excuse to get complacent. A TGOP-controlled Congress would block any hope of progress for the next two years. They are campaigning on a promise to bring gridlock to Washington and even shut down the federal government. We have 30 days to energize Democrats and moderate independents like Fred.
Government should not be dominated by a terrorized, embittered '20% majority.' It's time for the real majority - the 53-Percenters who won in 2008 and overcame TGOP paranoia on health care reform in 2010 - to step up to the microphone ... and whisper to Fred.