We've been hearing for weeks about how the sour economy, slow recovery and historical factors (such as that the incumbent President's party nearly always loses seats in the midterm elections) all portend doom for the Democrats.
While I would suggest that I expect things to be better next year than they are today and that these predictions are both premature and likely overstated,
a prerequisite for losing is that you have to have an opponent that can put a team on the field to beat you.
That wouldn't be the Republican party, apparently.
Last year after the election some pundits made the prediction that the GOP would degenerate into an increasingly more and more extreme right-wing minority whose pursuit of ideological purity would cause it to leave the universe of rational discourse at record speed.
Since then we've heard more about how poised the GOP was for success, including by recruiting moderate candidates to run for the Senate like Mark Kirk in Illinois, Charlie Crist in Florida and Mike Castle in Delaware. But the truth is that the underlying rift between conservatives and moderates remains, and it appears that the conservative base is so intent on purifying the party at all costs that they seem ready to turn whatever chance the GOP has of winning next year into a chance to make heads roll-- Republican heads.
This week we saw a prime example of that. Republican Dede Scozzafava, whose voting record overall is slightly to the right of the rest of the New York legislative delegation but who had angered conservatives by backing same-sex marriage and abortion rights and-- horror of horrors-- President Obama's stimulus plan (which given the magnitude of state budget problems I bet she's not the only legislator who actually had to write up a budget who was grateful for the help from the stimulus)-- was running for election to a vacant house district in heavily Republican upstate New York. I say was-- because she withdrew yesterday as out of state conservatives dumped huge amounts of money into the state in support of Doug Hoffman, the candidate of the New York Conservative party. A Sarah Palin endorsement of Hoffman was followed in short order by a number of other far right figures. Glenn Beck even went so far as to say during an interview with Hoffman on his show that Scozzafava is a follower of Karl Marx.
A Marxist? So now according to these wingnuts even a standard conservative Republican is a Marxist. No wonder that Scozzafava endorsed Democrat Bill Owens a day after dropping out (undoubtedly misinterpreted by the far right as proof that they were right about her all along.) I mean, when did a GOP legislator with a solid record of fiscal conservatism suddenly transform into a Marxist? Does the right even know what a 'Marxist' actually is, or is it just a cheap name to throw around?
It gets worse. They've organized their own national campaign, "Remove the RINO's" and are dedicated to running conservative challengers against insufficiently conservative Republicans (a 'RINO' is a 'Republican in name only,' what the far right likes to call Republicans who are are not conservative enough.) They already induced Arlen Specter to switch parties, and intend to defeat all three of the above named GOP Senate recruits (Kirk, Crist and Castle) in primaries next year. Never mind that Kirk and Castle are about the only Republicans who might be able to win the Senate seats in Illinois and Delaware, two solidly Democratic states, or that Crist, a popular Governor could easily keep the Florida Senate seat in GOP hands, according to the paragons of the far right, they must be punished for their sins and they will go down in primaries. The funding behind this effort comes from organizations like the Club for Growth, which has been pushing for doctrinaire conservatives for a long time. What is new is the organization on the internet, talk radio and twitter that has allowed these zealous 'keepers of the faith' to find and network with each other to produce a potent political force.
What they do not understand is that while I'm sure that everyone at their tea bag rally probably agrees with them, their viewpoints are way out of the mainstream and reflect the views of fewer and fewer Americans all the time. If they drum every Republican they can find who ever makes less than a perfectly conservative vote out of the party (and rock-solid conservatives like Richard Lugar and both the Diaz-Balart brothers are on their hit list) they may eventually achieve the 'pure' party they crave-- and when they want to go someplace they can fit everyone onto a bus.
House minority leader John Boehner also bears a little of the responsibility for empowering this monster. By insisting that 100% of the house Republicans vote against high profile Obama-backed initiatives like the stimulus and health care, Boehner has, without winning the vote, sent a message to these wingnuts that no heresy can be tolerated, and therefore one could see this coming-- it is only a short jump to the idea that heretics must be burnt. According to the far right they are doing Boehner (who had endorsed Scozzafava) a favor by protecting him from having a Marxist in his caucus who would have voted for the stimulus. Oh, my.
Imagine Senate Republican campaign chair John Cornyn pulling his hair out on the day of the Florida Senate primary, when his prize recruit, Charlie Crist, is defeated by Marco Rubio, a conservative who at best would be a long shot to hold the seat in a general election, or when Kirk or Castle lose their primaries to little-known conservatives who have little or no chance of winning the general election. Well, don't imagine it for too long, because for Republicans this scenario is coming closer to becoming a reality.
Maybe some of the underlying factors next year are working against Democrats but if Republicans keep shooting each other in the back before the election Democrats could still come out of it looking pretty good anyway.