Jonah Goldberg

Civil war!

That was the talk on the Sunday shows and blogosphere last week. The conservative "establishment" had backed Mike Castle in the Delaware primary over the "tea party" favorite, Christine O'Donnell. O'Donnell won, but only after being wounded by the likes of Karl Rove, Charles Krauthammer and the folks at the Weekly Standard and my own stomping ground, National Review.

The argument got heated. O'Donnell's most ardent supporters imbued opposition to her with deep ideological significance despite the fact that most of Castle's nominal supporters were far to Castle's right and more ideologically simpatico with O'Donnell. They backed Castle on the tactical grounds that he was a shoo-in to win the general election, which would give the GOP another Senate seat.

But Delaware's Republican primary voters saw it a different way. They have had enough with "RINOs" -- "Republicans in Name Only." The Limbaugh Law replaced the William F. Buckley Rule. The latter held that conservatives should vote for the most rightward electable candidate. The Limbaugh Law says that when the country is in open revolt against liberalism and Republicans are riding an election wave, you should vote conservative every time.

Time will tell which side will lose that debate, but one thing is already clear: The tea parties won (thank goodness).

It takes two to tango, and it takes two to fight a civil war. What seems lost on a remarkably diverse group of observers and political combatants, on the left and the right, is that there are no worthy Republican opponents to the tea parties.

Among the Republican leadership or the "conservative establishment," you will not find a single full-throated critic of the tea parties.

To borrow from an old Jim Croce song, the message out of the primaries is this: You don't tug on Superman's cape; you don't spit into the wind; you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with the tea parties.

If the spat over the Delaware primary were truly a sign of an ideological civil war or power struggle, you would expect the "establishment" to oppose tea party types in other races too. That hasn't happened.

Both the GOP leadership and the major conservative outlets enthusiastically support Marco Rubio in Florida, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Sharron Angle in Nevada (after some initial concerns) and Joe Miller in Alaska. Even John McCain -- an exemplary RINO to many on the right -- won not by vilifying the tea parties but by claiming to join them, an approach more sincerely and successfully followed by other GOP candidates across the country.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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