A Middle American revolution is brewing. Republican Scott Brown’s historic victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in Tuesday’s special election for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts has sent shock waves across the political landscape.
Mr. Brown came from behind after trailing by more than 30 points in September. Moreover, his triumph is even more remarkable because it occurred in the bluest of blue states. For decades, Massachusetts has been the bastion of progressive liberalism. Universal health care, environmentalism, a pervasive welfare state, high taxes and social permissiveness - all are dominant features of the Bay State. Mr. Brown’s upset win is more than the political equivalent of David defeating Goliath. It represents the shattering of the traditional liberal establishment.
The White House is engaged in a furious spin campaign. It claims Mr. Brown’s election was not a repudiation of President Obama’s domestic agenda - especially his drive to pass Obamacare over intense public opposition. Instead, Washington Democrats are arguing that Mrs. Coakley lost because she ran a dismal, tone-deaf campaign.
That is true - up to a point. The state attorney general was a weak candidate who was propped up by the Democratic apparatus. Nevertheless, Mr. Brown has tapped into a rich vein of growing disgust with the corrupt status quo.
Mr. Brown buried the Kennedy dynasty. He has unleashed the latent forces of an anti-left populism that threatens to reduce the Obama presidency to rubble. The conservative insurgent has established the model for the Republican campaign in the 2010 midterm elections.
Mr. Brown ran on sweeping, Reagan-style tax cuts, slashing government spending, restoring political accountability and opposing having terrorists tried in civilian courts and as a skeptic of man-made global warming. Above all, he turned his campaign into a referendum on Obamacare. Mr. Brown’s seminal pledge: He would be the 41st Republican vote in the Senate to filibuster and thereby kill health care reform. His anti-Obama message, combined with a folksy persona riding around in a pickup truck, proved too potent even for the vaunted Kennedy machine.
Mr. Brown’s stunning victory has provided conservatives with a golden opportunity to build a national majority coalition upon the wreckage of Mr. Obama’s presidency. The more to the left Mr. Obama veers, the more intense is the popular backlash.
The question for the right is whether this broad-based insurgent populism will be co-opted by the Republican establishment to simply get more Republicans elected or will be channeled toward finally rolling back big-government liberalism. During the George W. Bush administration, the party became beholden to big-government corporatists, betraying its conservative principles and supporters. The 1994 Republican revolution ultimately was derailed not by the Democrats, but by the corrupt Republican Beltway elite.
For years, the conventional wisdom among Republican insiders was that conservatives could not win in New England or in large swaths of the Rust Belt. Hence, the goal was to put forth country-club Republican candidates - William Weld, Jim Jeffords, Lincoln Chaffee - only to see them go down in flames. Mr. Brown has exposed the myth behind this strategy: Independent conservatives are viable everywhere.
Old habits, however, die hard. Take, for example, the Republican primary campaign for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. The winner of that race on Feb. 2 will be the Republican standard-bearer to fill Mr. Obama’s former seat. Illinois has been trending blue for some time. Hence, Washington Republicans are backing one of their own: incumbent Rep. Mark Kirk. The fact that Mr. Kirk is a Great Society Republican who is pro-abortion and voted for the monstrous cap-and-trade House bill last year has done nothing to diminish the enthusiasm of the party’s Beltway chieftains.
But conservatives should rally around his rival, Patrick Hughes, a successful businessman and longtime activist. Mr. Hughes is a Reaganite nationalist who advocates lower taxes, limited government, traditional family values and stopping the onslaught of illegal immigration. In short, he is the very opposite of Mr. Kirk: a conservative outsider who could be the Scott Brown of Illinois.
The fact that Republican heavyweights are ignoring Mr. Hughes is an ominous sign. The Republican Party is not the permanent home of rightist traditionalists. Rather, it is only a vehicle - a means - to achieving conservative ends. If the party is unwilling or unable to fulfill that function, conservatives should go elsewhere - even if it means forming a third party.
Conservatives have been taken for granted too long. They have loyally served their Republican masters while getting little in return. Mr. Brown’s rebellion is spreading across the nation.
Republicans are poised for massive gains in the 2010 elections - perhaps even retaking both houses of Congress. Yet, if a meaningful victory is to be achieved, conservatives need to confront not only their liberal enemies but those within the Republican ranks as well.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank. He is the daily radio host of “The Kuhner Show” on WTNT 570-AM (www.talk570.com) from noon until 3 p.m.
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