Karl Rove got the blogosphere buzzing last week when he told The Daily Telegraph he doubts that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has the “gravitas” to be President. “With all due candor,” said Rove, “appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel, I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of ‘that helps me see you in the Oval Office’”.
This is not the first time this election season Rove has dissed a Republican. Back in September he went on Sean Hannity’s TV program and said much worse things about Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware GOP Senate candidate.
Rove stands at the very heart of the GOP establishment. He was “the architect” of George W. Bush’s two gubernatorial and two presidential victories. He’s supposed to be one of the smartest political strategists around. So what gives? Has he never heard of The Eleventh Commandment?
The Eleventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican”, was laid down by California GOP Chairman Gaylord Parkinson in the fall of 1965 just as the Republican gubernatorial primary battle between the conservative Ronald Reagan and the liberal former San Francisco mayor George Christopher was beginning to heat up.
Parkinson, mindful that nasty things said during heated primary campaigns often came back to haunt the winner in the general election, was determined that intraparty infighting would not scuttle the Republican effort to deny a third term to Democratic Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown (father of Jerry Brown, the current Democratic candidate for governor).
And the strategy worked. Reagan and Christopher refrained from personal attacks on one another, Reagan went on to win the primary and the general election, and the rest is history.
It has been a long time since Republicans exhibited this kind of civility. This primary season has been especially nasty, and the biggest offender has been the party establishment. Just about every loathsome and unsubstantiated charge that has been hurled at Christine O’Donnell appeared first on the Delaware GOP’s official website.
Rove was not content to just thumb his nose at The Eleventh Commandment. He went on the air with his disgusting comments about O’Donnell after she had soundly thrashed the establishment candidate, Rep. Mike Castle, in the primary. Is Rove working for the Democrats now?
It was former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) who labeled the GOP “The Stupid Party”. And this election season the party establishment has been acting very stupidly, indeed.
It is an article of faith with GOP strategists that a Republican should “run to the center”, positioning himself just a little to the right of the Democratic candidate. The underlying assumption is that voters farther to the right will support the Republican as the best available alternative.
That this assumption is erroneous has been demonstrated time and again. For example, here in deep-blue Maryland Ellen Sauerbrey ran for governor as a tax-cutting conservative in 1994, defeating the party establishment’s favorite in the Republican primary and losing the general election to Democrat Parris Glendening by fewer than 6,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast. Four years later Sauerbrey ran again, this time as a “moderate” with the blessing of the party establishment. With Glendening’s approval numbers in the pit, it was widely assumed she would win this time. Instead, she lost by almost 160,000 votes.
This election season the GOP establishment not only went with their usual “run to the center” strategy, but made the additional mistake of thinking the center had moved left. Thus they anointed liberals like Dede Scozzafava in New York and Charlie Crist in Florida, who both supported the stimulus package, Mike Castle in Delaware, who actually voted for TARP and the cap-and-trade bill, and Trey Grayson in Kentucky.
What they hadn’t figured on was the Tea Party. As in the past, the party establishment expected the rank-and-file to fall dutifully into line and accept whatever the elites had decided. But this time, they were in for a shock as one anointed candidate after another — including several incumbents (Bob Bennett, Lisa Murkowski, Bob Inglis) — fell before Tea-Party-backed challengers.
The party elites clearly were unhappy with this situation and initially were unsure how to deal with it. Eventually they got behind the candidacies of Sharron Angle in Nevada, because she was their only hope to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Rand Paul in Kentucky, because his margin of victory was so convincing. Likewise, the candidacy of Marco Rubio in Florida, although his establishment-backed opponent had left the GOP and the party establishment had no choice but to support him.
But they have kept their distance from Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, opting to send campaign money into other races, and have maintained a huge distance from Carl Paladino, the Tea-Party-backed candidate for governor of New York, scarcely even acknowledging that he’s a Republican. And, even though they pay lip service to the candidacy of Joe Miller, who defeated Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the primary, they continue to embrace Murkowski.
Polls are indicating that the GOP will win big on Tuesday. If they do, it will be mainly because the Tea Party was able to focus voter anger at the Democrats and channel it into votes for Republican candidates — just as Democrats were able to benefit from voter anger at Republicans in 2006 and 2008.
This will be less a victory for the GOP than a loss for the Democrats. Voters have not forgotten the excessive spending, the unnecessary wars, and the assaults on civil liberties of the Bush years, and have no wish to go back to that. If nothing else, the Tea Party has shown us that much.
But I don’t expect the current Republican leadership to understand that. They aren’t called The Stupid Party for nothing.