Christine O’Donnell, a candidate in Delaware’s Republican senatorial primary, is against masturbation and believes that her opponent’s supporters follow her home at night and hide in her bushes. For her, last Thursday was a day of mixed fortunes.
First, she won the endorsement of Sarah Palin, who told Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “[O’Donnell] is the real conservative in the race.”
Then came word that her own party had filed a formal complaint against her with the Federal Election Commission for collaborating with the Tea Party Express in illegal ways.
“Sadly, Christine’s just not really a legitimate candidate in Delaware,” the Republican state committee chairman, Tom Ross, said recently. “She makes a decent presentation until you know the facts.”
Propelled by conservatives from afar and repelled by her party establishment at home, O’Donnell is the latest Tea Party candidate to surf a late tide of insurgent support that could clinch her the party’s nomination tomorrow. Democrats, like O’Donnell’s supporters, are praying for her victory. Polls show that against her their candidate would have a nine-point lead; against her more moderate opponent, Mike Castle, the Democrat would trail by 11 points. Their precarious control of the Senate will hinge on precisely these outcomes.
The fact that the best hope for the Democrats in November’s midterm elections is for Republicans to select candidates so ridiculous and reactionary that voters have no choice but to vote Democrat lays bare the parlous state of US electoral politics.
After former US president George W. Bush’s second term, which infuriated liberals and embarrassed conservatives, came a brief rush of enthusiasm among at least half the country over the potential of Barack Obama’s presidency. After that brief, euphoric rally, the political class is now double-dipping back in cynicism and desperation and taking the country with them.
Democrats should be careful what they wish for. Just because Republicans are becoming more extremist doesn’t mean they can’t win. Two Tea Party candidates have already been selected in safe Senate seats and five are on the ticket in tight races. Of these, two hold double-digit leads and the remaining three are in dead heats.
Indeed, the first of two certainties come November is that the Congressional Republican caucus in both houses will emerge even further to the right than it went in. For the foreseeable future, the republicanism of George Bush Jr will be understood as a period of relative moderation. The birthers and Ground-Zero mosquers who use “Muslim” as a slur and compare Obama to Hitler have broken through. Their politics may not be credible, but their potency as an electoral force certainly is.
The second is that the Democrats will emerge with less seats than they went in with. The current prognosis is that they are likely to lose the House of Representatives and could possibly lose the Senate.
Either way, when it comes to advancing progressive legislation this is about as good as it gets for Obama until 2012. The last two years he has had to scrape around cajoling votes out of politicians one by one to cement wafer-thin majorities for his landmark achievements like healthcare reform and the stimulus package. He won’t have to do that anymore for the simple reason that the wafer will be gone. Whatever he achieves after November will be both incremental and inoffensive to a resurgent and radicalized right wing.