Off the rails on a crazy train

With the 2010 primaries officially over, the aftermath has left both parties braced for a tumultuous Midterm campaign.

Taking the ‘Palin’ brand and running further to the political right, Christine O’Donnell successfully culled a member of the rarest breed in the US Senate – a moderate Republican [Getty]

It is rather poetic that after a rollercoaster of a primary season in US politics, the furthest right ‘Tea Party’ Republican yet to emerge, Christine O’Donnell, stood victorious Tuesday night in the tiny state of Delaware. O’Donnell, a Republican so far to the right that she makes Sarah Palin look like Emma Goldman, beat popular Delaware congressman and former governor Mike Castle, in the race to see who would be the Republican nominee to run for Vice President Joe Biden’s former seat in the US Senate.

So how is this race so poetic? Let me count the ways.

O’Donnell, a member of the ‘Tea Party,’ a group of mostly middle-aged white men and women who go to rallies in funny hats and chant slogans like “I want my country back,” beat Castle, whose family literally helped found this country. Castle is a direct descendant of one of America’s most celebrated Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

This is not to say that son is necessarily like father, and certainly as Franklin’s great-great-great-great-great grandson, Castle would be expected to be at least somewhat different from his famous ancestor. But if you were to expect anyone to have a handle on what it is the US stands for, you would probably look in the direction of Ben Franklin’s kin.

Equally poetic, this was the last major right-wing upset over a sitting moderate or conservative Republican member of Congress, and it occurred in the state where it all began. As author and Philadelphia Daily News senior writer Will Bunch points out in his new bestseller, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age Of Obama, it was at approximately 11:00 am on June 30, 2009, inside a senior citizens’ centre in Georgetown, Delaware, that the stirrings of this “Movement Of The Mad” began.

In what was supposed to be a traditional town-hall style meeting with the courtly Castle answering audience questions about upcoming healthcare reform legislation and other pressing issues, a woman stood up and started ranting. 

In Bunch’s words, she spoke “of dark conspiracies and the threats to the Republic, a bastard prince born in Kenya and of soldiers fighting halfway around the world, of forged documents and an endangered flag”. To ringing applause from her uber-conservative comrades in the audience, and to the shock of the genteel Castle, she questioned the very legitimacy of President Obama to be commander-in-chief of the US.

And so began a summer of lunacy, which inexorably led to the nomination of a Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, who has spoken fondly of a return to prohibition [of alcohol], and one in Kentucky, Rand Paul (the son of congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul), who has questioned whether the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was entirely necessary.

More recently, Ken Buck, who has spoken out in support of repealing the 17th amendment to the US constitution – providing for direct election of US senators – and called social security “horrible policy,” won the GOP nomination in Colorado. In one final flourish over the past month, little-known attorney Joe Miller, who agrees with Buck on social security and thinks unemployment should be “made illegal,” prevailed over moderately-conservative incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska GOP primary, and now we have all been witness to the rise of the ‘capo di tutti capi’ of crazy, Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell.

O’Donnell is not just right wing on every issue, crying out like some neo-Victorian Frankenstein that having “lust in your heart” is actually akin to committing adultery, a thought-crime in her world. She has also been exposed quite publicly for flat-out lying, claiming that in an earlier run for the Senate against Biden she won two of Delaware’s three counties (she did not), and she thinks she exists in a Jason Bourne novel, claiming that her GOP opponent Mike Castle had operatives hiding in the bushes outside her house to spy on her.

In other words, for a party that felt a need to up the ante on insanity from one election to the next over the past nine months, they sure ended this crusade with a bang. Basically, Delaware Republican voters went ahead and nominated someone so paranoid, dishonest and authoritarian, that Tea Partiers took a Senate seat Republicans were almost certain to win in Delaware with the well-liked Castle, and ensured that independents and conservative Democrats will go fleeing back to the party of Obama – lest they be responsible for installing the second coming of Francisco Franco as Delaware’s junior senator.

The same road to perdition may come to pass in other states, such as Colorado and Florida, where throwing more mainstream Republicans overboard for these ‘Tea Party’ heroes may cost the GOP a number of Senate seats they should have easily won. In other more conservative states such as Utah and Kentucky, the result will likely be much worse: their candidates will win. With this will come a larger megaphone to spew their specific brand of nuttiness and further erode the Republican brand among those who believe in such niceties as post-19th century science and paved roads.

With all this said, it should make for an interesting general election season. As former President Bill Clinton was moved to say, the current Republican party makes “George W. Bush look liberal”. Which, to steal a line from President Obama’s campaign in 2008, is certainly change, but not necessarily change you can believe in.

Cliff Schecter is the president of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

Follow Cliff Schecter on Twitter @cliffschecter

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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