For the Republican Party, Tuesday's primaries contain good news and bad news. The good news: Republicans are angry—angry at Barack Obama, angry at the national debt, even angry at some of the leaders of their own party. Anger is a good motivator, and in midterm elections, where turnout is small, a little motivation goes a long way. The bad news: Republicans are not hungry. They're not willing to submerge their anger for the sake of winning elections. They either don't think they need to compromise their ideological purity to beat Democrats this fall or they don't care. In either case, they may be blowing their shot at a midterm landslide.
I believe Bienart is right of course. As much celebrating there has been about the wins of folks like Sharon Angle and Carly Fiorina, and as much talk as there has been about how Sarah Palin is the new kingmaker in the GOP, the real test will come in the fall when these candidates will face Democratic opponents who have a trick or two up their sleeve and may very well eat these newbies for lunch.
But there remains a question. Bienart talks about "Republicans" blowing it. But who are these Republicans? In many cases, the GOP establishment has put up candidates that tend to be appealing to independents and moderates only to have them slapped down by groups like the Tea Party. Dave Weigel explains this in a conversation he had with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez:
I asked where Democrats could take this argument, exactly, if Angle and Paul simply closed off access to the national media. "Well, we're happy to engage them because they're out of the mainstream," he said. "Nevada is not an isolated incident. In Florida the establishment candidate was forced out of the party, in Kentucky the Republicans nominate a candidate who questions the Civil Rights Act. They forced out the moderate candidate in Connecticut. Even where they get the candidate they supposedly want in California, in Carly Fiorina, she's had to run far to the right to win over the party. Republicans are in the very unique position of having to support the candidates they didn't want. There's a reason the party wanted Sue Lowden and Trey Grayson to win -- they wanted candidates who could appeal to independents."
I think what these wins are showing is a Republican establishment that is weak, unable to place a check on the more passionate groups within the GOP coalition. Contrast this with the Democrats whose establishment was able to beat back a challenge from the Left to Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln.
Which also leads me to wonder if the loss of more centrist Republicans over the years has led to a weakened GOP leadership. Centrists within the party tended to respect the establishment, since in many ways they had a hand in the establishment during the mid-20th century.
This is a long way of saying I don't think the Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees want to support weak candidates, but they don't really have the power to stop special interest groups from taking over the process.
I tend to believe this will be the case until one (or both) of two things happen: either the GOP gets a chairman with a strong vision for the party who can exercise party discipline, or the interests groups are discredited by an astounding loss.
I think we shall find out come November.