In the final round of primaries last night, the Tea Party movement enjoyed stunning wins over the GOP establishment in contests for House and Senate seats from Delaware, the governor’s mansion in New York, and possibly a Senate seat from New Hampshire, capping off a tumultuous summer of intra-party clashes. Ultra-conservative insurgent Christine O’Donnell won a surprise victory in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware, defeating Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), a well-respected moderate with the firm backing of the Republican establishment. Yesterday’s primaries were the latest battles in the year-long GOP civil war, but it was also perhaps the most heated, with both sides taking nasty swings at each other. Most observers agree that O’Donnell has no chance of beating Democratic nominee Chris Coons in November, so for Republicans, an O’Donnell win means failing to gain a Senate seat, and thus likely losing any chance of taking control of the upper house. O’Donnell was not seen as viable in the primary until the last weeks of the campaign, and so the GOP establishment — along with some more mainstream Tea Party groups wary of O’Donnell’s delusions — lined up squarely behind Castle, who had served nearly 20 years in the House and two terms as governor. However, after polling showed O’Donnell posed a real threat to Castle, the state GOP opened fire on her with everything they could muster, questioning her competence, honesty, and even sanity. For their part, O’Donnell supporters used the attacks to bolster her anti-establishment credibility, and fired back with their own ugly attacks on Castle’s sexuality and masculinity, while some even physically threatened the head of the Delaware Republican Party.
RAGE FROM THE MACHINE: The Delaware GOP — which refused to list O’Donnell on their website of candidates — pulled no punches, calling O’Donnell “reckless,” “hypocritical,” and “dishonest.” State GOP Chairman Tom Ross blasted O’Donnell as a “troubled perennial candidate” who is “not electable in Delaware or anywhere else for that matter,” even for the position of “dog catcher.” He also accused her campaign of running on “half-truths and outright lies.” Later, Ross implied O’Donnell was “delusional,” and on Monday, Ross called her “kooky,” and said most voters are “laughing” about her candidacy. That’s a “good thing,” Ross added. The state party even recorded a “robocall” with O’Donnell’s disillusioned former campaign manager accusing the candidate of “living on campaign donations — using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt.” National Republicans have been equally skeptical of O’Donnell, though perhaps more discrete. Republican officials in Washington “have said privately they intend to write off the seat if O’Donnell is victorious against Castle,” and not waste any money or resources there for the general election. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the man tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate, told CNN before the election that O’Donnell’s electability was a “serious issue,” and that he wasn’t sure if he would support her if she won. Meanwhile, establishment conservative pundits also generally sided with the GOP, with the Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway writing, “William F. Buckley, the godfather of the modern conservative movement…would not vote for Christine O’Donnell.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes both came out against O’Donnell, with Kristol dismissing her as “no Sarah Palin.” Former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove — who generally provides sunny electoral outlooks for Republicans — told Fox News host Sean Hannity last night after the winner was called, “This is not a race we’re going to be able to win” in November. Even FreedomWorks, the mega Tea Party organizer run by former House Speaker Dick Armey, refused to back O’Donnell. Ironically, O’Donnell condemned “Republican cannibalism” this morning on Good Morning America, saying she doesn’t need the GOP establishment to win in November.
CIVIL WAR: The intra-party battle over O’Donnell reflects a much larger civil war within the conservative movement about the future of the Republican party. The GOP establishment had tried to fend of Senate Tea Party challenges from Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Mike Lee in Utah, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Ken Buck in Colorado, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Marco Rubio in Florida, among others. While RNC Chairman Michael Steele earlier this year promised that the “Republican Party will not to meddle in local races — especially GOP primaries featuring candidates backed by Tea Party activists,” political action committees controlled by current GOP members of Congress had spent at least $2,162,790 through June on establishment-picked candidates in primaries against Tea Party candidates. For its part, the group Tea Party Express spent $300,000 in support of O’Donnell, reflecting an explosive proliferation of outside conservative groups that have spent huge sums of money backing Tea Party candidates across the country. Meanwhile, The Progress Report identified 17 GOP primary contests that pitted establishment and Tea Party candidates in which the losing candidate has refused to endorse the winner. Indeed, Castle said he would not endorse O’Donnell and showed a “lack of traditional campaign courtesy by choosing not to congratulate O’Donnell by name” during his concession speech last night, prompting at least one pundit to speculate that Castle may chose to back Democrat Coons over the GOP nominee. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who lost her primary after Tea Party Express came in and spent heavily against her, called Castle to warn him to “be careful” about the group, because they are “certainly not above misrepresentation.” Last night, she had even harsher words, calling the Tea Party Express “an outside extremist group” that “hijacked” the Alaska GOP. On the other hand, Castle seemed more in awe of the group’s prowess, telling the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, “The Tea Party Express, which claims it’s not a political party, is in reality a pretty good political operation. This is a more sophisticated political operation than they’ve been given credit for.”
TEA PARTY SENATE: O’Donnell’s win, and that of other like-minded insurgent candidates, mean the Senate could have a sizable contingent of far-right tea partiers when the new session begins in January. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has already started a Tea Party Caucus in the House, and has hinted at a bid to overthrow the GOP leadership with true “Constitutional conservatives.” Meanwhile, Joe Miller, who defeated Murkowski in the Alaska Senate primary, was more blunt, warning Senate GOP leaders to “catch the wave” of the new right-wing uprising. “The leadership has to embrace that message or else there will be real problems,” Miller said in an apparent threat. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin seemed to endorse this takeover, saying, “mark my words…Joe someday will help lead the United States Senate.” Ultra-conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has been leading the effort to remake the Senate in his image, using his Senate Conservatives Fund to circumvent the Party leadership and spend hundreds-of-thousands of dollars on behalf of right-wing anti-establishment candidates from Alaska to New Hampshire. Politico’s Mike Allen dubbed DeMint “Enemy No. 1 in his caucus” for his activities, and a senior GOP aide told Politico, “in Jim DeMint’s world, the ‘principles of freedom’ are more important than a candidate who pays their taxes, is honest with voters and who isn’t a complete fraud,” referring to allegations about O’Donnell.
Text from ThinkProgress
Photos from Paul Boylan
- Christine O’Donnell: media reaction (guardian.co.uk)
- Christine O’Donnell Denounces GOP ‘Cannibalism,’ Says Rove Eating ‘Humble Pie’ (VIDEO) (huffingtonpost.com)
- Christine O’Donnell May Be a Gay-Baiting Bigot, But At Least She’s Interesting? (queerty.com)
- Masturbation-Hater Christine O’Donnell Wins Senate Primary [Primary Colors] (jezebel.com)