Here's some good news for Democrats who've been blue lately: The coming GOP congressional surge will inevitably lead to a lot of disarray on the right. There will be infighting, bickering and charges of betrayal aplenty. The tea-infused populists will bark at -- and sometimes bite -- the so-called elitists. Many in the Republican establishment will, in turn, show no small amount of ingratitude to the populists who breathed new life into it.
Now, this might seem like cold comfort to those liberals who actually believed their own hype about President Obama ushering in what Time magazine called a "new liberal order" that was supposed to last a generation but began petering out when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.
Indeed, consoling liberals with the prediction that impending GOP success will yield Republican infighting is a bit like telling a Roman aristocrat that the invading barbarians will squabble over who gets to keep all your stuff.
So if liberals will take no solace from this prediction, perhaps conservatives will. You wouldn't know it from much of the mainstream news media coverage, which has focused almost entirely on the Tea Parties and the GOP, but the 2010 midterms were never about the Republicans. Think about how much coverage you've seen of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell or New York gubernatorial contender Carl Paladino, two candidates who were always long shots at best. Now think how little you've seen of say, Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin rookie politician poised to defeat Russ Feingold, the progressive lion of the Senate now that Teddy Kennedy is gone. Johnson is a solid, serious, candidate and hence bad copy for a press corps at least in part eager to keep the attention off the Democrats.
In short, as John Podhoretz recently wrote in the New York Post, this election isn't a coronation for the Republicans as it's a vote of no confidence in the Democrats. The political turmoil on the right, most commonly understood as "the Tea Parties vs. the establishment," that we've witnessed over the last year was in many respects a sideshow compared with the fact that support of Obama and the Democrats among independents, moderate Republicans, the elderly and, most recently, among women and low-income families, has cratered. Last week's New York Times/CBS News poll found that for the first time since 1982, when polling began, the GOP has the edge among women. For the most part, the bulk of these voters aren't moving to the GOP so much as they are fleeing the Democrats. That's how it works in a two-party system; one side's loss is the other side's gain.
And that is why the Republicans are going to start turning on each other like drag queens at a wig sale. It's the nature of politics that when you're out of power, everyone can agree on what the top priority should be: Get back in power. But, the only way to get back in power is to attract people who might not share all of your goals or your passion. Majority coalitions by definition have diverse groups within them. FDR's coalition had everybody from Klansmen to blacks, socialists to industrialists. The new GOP coalition isn't nearly so exotic, but it does have its internal contradictions.
We've had a preview of them in the Delaware primary fight between O'Donnell and Rep. Michael Castle. O'Donnell partisans hold that squishy inside-the-Beltway RINOs (Republicans in name only) refused to rally to a right-wing stalwart. O'Donnell's conservative critics insist that they are no less sincere in their principles; they simply thought O'Donnell was a risky choice compared with the comparative sure bet the GOP had in Castle to take Joe Biden's seat.
The details of that family spat will no doubt soon be forgotten, but the relevance won't. The populist vs. establishment storyline is going to come back with a vengeance, particularly given the crowded field of potential GOP presidential contenders. Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee won't be the only ones writing off criticism from Karl Rove or George Will as "inside the Beltway elitism" (nor will they always be wrong when they do).
More important than the intraconservative fights is the fact that the moderates, independents, women and young people fleeing the Obama coalition to make up a new Republican majority aren't much interested in lending their numerical and political weight to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's agenda to make Obama a "one-term president." Much like the Tea Partiers, they would like to see the GOP accomplish something substantive over the next two years. The arguing begins the second the GOP starts acting on that substance.
Whatever the final numbers, this midterm election isn't a vote of confidence in the Republicans; it's a second chance for them. The GOP brand remains deeply tarnished among both lifelong conservatives, Tea Party firebrands as well as swing-voting independents. That consensus is the one thing unifying the Republicans -- that, and Barack Obama.
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