With Tea Party Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s primary election victory in Delaware, many Republican and conservative commentators are calling the choice of O’Donnell a bad thing, citing “the Buckley Rule.” Charles Krauthammer came out today with a column criticizing the Tea Party and the O’Donnell pick, citing the Buckley Rule, saying
“Of course Mike Castle is a liberal Republican. What do you expect from Delaware? A DeMint? Castle voted against Obamacare and the stimulus. Yes, he voted for cap-and-trade. That’s batting .667. You’d rather have a Democrat who bats .000 and who might give the Democrats the 50th vote to control the Senate?”
But there is a problem with this line of thinking: it ignores the big picture of the Tea party.
The Buckley Rule:
Support the most conservative candidate who is electable.
The Buckley Rule sounds good on the surface, but you just can’t apply it to the O’Donnell election because in this case, using the Buckley Rule assumes that the Tea Party has a singular goal of undoing the Democrats’ majorities in the House and the Senate. While that does happen to be one of the Tea Party’s short-term goals, the issues that brought about the frustration and angst that resulted in the Tea Party’s creation won’t be solved in a single election cycle…and in point of fact, electing liberal Republicans just happens to be antithetical to the entire purpose of the Tea Party.
In fact, it was the Buckley Rule and the Republican Party’s “big tent” strategy that directly contributed to the creation of the Tea Party – the GOP is supposed to be the conservative party in America, but they have sold their soul in order to win elections, and their base conservative constituency is tired of it. We’re done with seeing our values sold out by Republicans like Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Olympia Snowe and, I dare say, George W. Bush.
Criticizing the Tea Party for not adhering to the Buckley Rule demonstrates the incredibly short-sighted view of the Tea Party held by the party elites and many commentators. The Tea Party isn’t just about winning a few elections in the short term in order to stop Obama’s agenda. While that is one goal of the Tea Party, there are also many in the Tea Party looking to bring the Republican Party back to its conservative roots; bowing to the party’s misguided ideas about “electability” is what got the Republican Party relegated back to the minority in 2008.
If the Republicans want to remain a viable force in American politics in the long-term, they would do well to heed this lesson from the Tea Party: getting back to conservatism is the overriding goal. While there are no guarantees that Christine O’Donnell will lose her Senate race, as most of the commentators are predicting, it’s better for the Republicans to lose a few elections than it would be to see conservatives split from the party, because a split in the party would guarantee lost elections for the Republicans for years to come.