Many of my liberal friends are convinced that the Republican Party has a death wish. It is sprinting to the right-most fever swamps of American life. It will end up alienating the moderate voters it needs to win elections.
There’s only one problem with this theory. There is no evidence to support it. The Republican Party may be moving sharply right, but there is no data to suggest that this has hurt its electoral prospects, at least this year.
I asked the election guru Charlie Cook if there were signs that the Tea Party was scaring away the independents. “I haven’t seen any,” he replied. I asked another Hall of Fame pollster, Peter Hart, if there were Republican or independent voters so alarmed by the Tea Party that they might alter their votes. He ran the numbers and found very few potential defectors.
The fact is, as the Tea Party has surged, so has the G.O.P. When this primary season began in early February, voters wanted Democrats to retain control of Congress by 49 percent to 37 percent, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll. In the ensuing months, Tea Party candidates won shocking victories in states from Florida to Alaska. The most recent A.P./Gfk poll now suggests that Americans want Republicans to take over Congress by 46 percent to 43 percent.
Nor is there evidence that the Tea Party’s success has changed moderates’ perceptions about Republicans generally. According to a survey published in July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans feel philosophically closer to the Republicans than to the Democrats. Put another way, many moderates see Democrats like Nancy Pelosi as more extreme than Republicans like John Boehner.
Nor is there any sign that alarm over the Tea Party is hurting individual Republican candidates. In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman has opened up a significant lead on his Democratic opponent. In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul is way ahead, as is Marco Rubio in Florida. In Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk has a small lead, and Linda McMahon has pulled nearly even in Connecticut. Sharron Angle, a weak candidate, is basically tied with Harry Reid in Nevada.
This does not mean that moderate voters are signing up for the Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin brigades. Palin has a dismal 29 percent approval rating, according to a June Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. But it does mean that the essential dynamic of this election is still the essential dynamic. Voters are upset about the economy, the debt and the culture of Washington. The Democrats are the party of government and of the status quo. They have done their best to remind people of that. This week, Democratic voters renominated Charles Rangel, the epitome of Washington scandal. Democratic voters in the District of Columbia ousted Mayor Adrian Fenty, one of the nation’s bravest education reformers, and replaced him with an orthodox pol.
Most voters want a radical change in government but not a radical change in policy. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week, only 34 percent of Americans say their own representative deserves re-election. This is an astounding number.
It doesn’t matter that public approval of the G.O.P. is now at its all-time low. It doesn’t matter that the Tea Party rhetoric is sometimes extreme. The poll suggests that roughly 50 percent of Americans haven’t thought about the Tea Parties enough to form an opinion. They’re not paying attention because they don’t see it as one of the important dangers they face. Who knows? Maybe they even sort of like the fact that a ragtag band of outsiders is taking on the establishment and winning.
This doesn’t mean that the Tea Party influence will be positive for Republicans over the long haul. The movement carries viruses that may infect the G.O.P. in the years ahead. Its members seek traditional, conservative ends, but they use radical means. Along the way, the movement has picked up some of the worst excesses of modern American culture: a narcissistic sense of victimization, an egomaniacal belief in one’s own rightness and purity, a willingness to distort the truth so that every conflict becomes a contest of pure good versus pure evil.
The Tea Party style is beginning to replicate itself in parts of the conservative world. Dinesh D’Souza’s Forbes cover article, “How Obama Thinks,” contained the sort of untethered assertions that have become the lingua franca of this movement. Obama got his subversive radicalism from his father’s grave, D’Souza postulated: “He adopted his father’s position that capitalism and freedom are code words for economic plunder.” The fact that Newt Gingrich embraced this offensive theory is a sign of how severely the normal intellectual standards have been weakened.
But that damage is all in the future. Right now, the Tea Party doesn’t matter. The Republicans don’t matter. The economy and the Democrats are handing the G.O.P. a great, unearned revival. Nothing, it seems, is more scary than one-party Democratic control.
David Brooks, New York Times
Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/17/opinion/17brooks.html