Calvin Freiburger

John Avlon Moves the Goalposts to Belittle Tea Party Victories

Posted on November 6 2010 6:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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With the Republican Party winning big in Congress, governorships and state legislatures this week, you just knew the left-wing media would have to find some way to spin the results. In what character assassin David Frum (of course) hails as an “important column,” the Daily Beast’s John Avlon claims to “prove the wingnuts”—that is, the Tea Party movement—“spoiled a larger conservative victory.”

Avlon cites as his evidence the defeats of Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Linda McMahon, and Ken Buck, and the closeness of Pat Toomey and Joe Miller’s races:

There’s no question that Tea Party enthusiasm helped power the Republican Party’s historic gains in the House of Representatives and—just as crucial a measure of this wave election—in state legislatures across the nation. The Tea Party’s focus on fiscal discipline, reducing the deficit and the debt, and balancing the budget, appeals to independents. But the momentum was so great that the GOP should also have taken the Senate. After all, this is the first time since 1930 that a party has taken the House and not the Senate—and it’s the first time since 1859 that the GOP has controlled the House without the Senate or White House. The extremism of some Tea Party Senate candidates is the reason.

Translation: The Tea Party helped Republicans a lot, but it’s still a wingnut menace because the victory should have been bigger. It’s not surprising that Avlon has to raise expectations, though; he’s got too much invested in the role of a centrist Chicken Little to admit he’s wrong.

There’s always room for improvement, and “could be better,” obviously, is not the same as “bad.” I don’t know whether or not Ann Coulter’s correct that the GOP “never had a chance to take the Senate,” but her point that “the close races were all in solidly Democratic states” is well taken:

[A]nyone who knows the difference between California and Tennessee knew that. Most of the Senate seats up this year happened to be in very, very “blue” states. Short of a Republican invasion of the body snatchers, Republicans weren’t going to be electing senators from California, New York and Oregon.

Expecting the Tea Party brand to simply override every other factor, especially a state’s long-term, deeply-entrenched political disposition, everywhere it goes is a ridiculous standard.

There is a cost to ideological party purges—the candidates who can win a low-turnout closed partisan primary are often not the ones best equipped to convert their activist appeal to general election success. And while the more extreme candidates absorb the oxygen of attention with their politics of incitement and play-to-the-base social issue positions, centrist candidates have a comparatively quiet strength that leads to broader election victories.

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