Few political analysts thought Christine O’Donnell, political neophyte and perennial outsider candidate, would defeat heavyweight, nine-time U.S. Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware Republican Senate primary for Vice President Joe Biden’s former Senate seat. Against what initially seemed like insurmountable odds, O’Donnell soundly beat Castle at 53-47 percent. This so-called “political impossibility” is a major victory for the Tea Party, adds luster to the king-making ability of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), and shows the vote-getting strength of conservative endorsements like South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R). Castle’s “unexpected” defeat (unexpected by the inside-the-beltway crowd), along with Joe Miller’s surprise primary defeat last month of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), is evidence that the grassroots conservative political movement constitutes a rip tide capable of dragging down established politicos and sweeping them out of office with unnerving force.
Those who lament a likely Democrat win in Delaware in November — which increases the odds against the Republicans winning a majority in the Senate — don’t understand the ferocity of ordinary citizens’ anger at the way the “political class” has been destroying America. If O’Donnell, a candidate with no government experience who provides numerous angles of attack by her opponent, can pull off such a major upset, the political establishment’s stronghold in Washington is obviously eroded and is on the verge of crashing down. Declaring that she is “in this to win,” O’Donnell joined with Tea Party Express in asking the National Republican Senatorial Committee to reverse its decision not to fund her efforts in the general election. NRSC executive director, Rob Jesmer, issued a less-than-gracious statement with tepid congratulations for O’Donnell’s victory “after a hard-fought primary campaign.” Now — with Sharron Angle winning the GOP Senate nomination in Nevada earlier this year — the party faces a challenging decision: Will they continue what O’Donnell called “cannibalism,” by flaunting their disdain for the GOP’s base and platform, or will the last remnants of the party establishment hold onto the flotsam of its power as it gets swept out to sea?
Clearly, the “certified” political establishment has underestimated the Tea Party movement, which — all expectations to the contrary — has become a grassroots powerhouse in American political life, despite attempts by professionals in both parties to marginalize and reduce it to an object of derision. Some have described the movement as generating “rabid enthusiasm among the GOP base, hostility from most others.” Even now, the media spin is that Christine O’Donnell is a “a right-wing gadfly and serial debtor” and her “improbable victory” is evidence that an “angry, restive base” is “kicking out” those like Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist who are not “ideologically pure.” There is nothing new in this kind of angry sputtering: social conservatives have been on the receiving end of this same kind of abuse by the know-it-all, big-money Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party for decades; they never relent in their smug condescension toward the pro-life Republicans, without whose votes they couldn’t win an election for dog catcher. Yet, the Rasmussen Reports survey in April indicated that nearly one quarter (24 percent) of the electorate self-identify as members of the Tea Party movement; a New York Times/CBS News poll indicates that 20 percent of Americans support the movement. That level of support has unnerved much of the political establishment who has latched onto House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) description of the movement as more “Astroturf” than “grassroots.”
So don’t count the Tea Party movement out in Delaware. After all, as O’Donnell said, the NRSC does not have a “winning track record,” and the Tea Party, though new to the political game, has pulled off several stunning upset victories.