There’s nothing quite like a slap across the face to get a man’s undivided attention. Sometimes, one slap is not enough. The Tea Party seems ready with more slaps, if necessary.
The Republican elites, in and out of office, sound at first blush (though the deep red imprint on the faces of the stunned elites suggest something more than a mere blush) as if they haven’t learned much yet. Perhaps sober reflection will help.
Karl Rove’s assault on Christine O'Donnell’s character in the wake of her stunning upset of Rep. Michael N. Castle in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware was remarkable not only for its harshness, but for its biting personal language, calling into question her “rectitude,” her “truthfulness,” her “sincerity” and even her “character.” Not many men would accuse a woman of lack of rectitude and character, even in a bordello. Gallantry survives only in certain places, of course, and Mr. Rove is after all only a synthetic Southerner.
Mzz O’Donnell’s triumph may well have cost the Republicans a Senate pickup in November, as Mr. Rove and the elites assert. The first post-primary poll, by the reliable Rasmussen Reports, shows Chris Coons, the Democratic nominee, up11 points, 53 percent to 42 percent. This suggests a difficult and improbable route to another O'Donnell upset, but 53 percent to 42 percent is hardly the 90 to 10 Democratic advantage the elites apparently expected the first public-opinion polls to show.
Christine O'Donnell’s political past is indeed uneven: She has run for state office before and lost every time. She had trouble getting through college, not paying off her student loans on time, like a nice girl from a country-club family would have, and she embroidered her scholastic resume, which is no doubt unprecedented among the elites and their children. Worst of all, apparently the only college she could afford was Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey. You might think she was a dropout from a college of Bible, Business and Mortuary Science in the backwoods of Appalachia. Still, so far as we know, she has never been arrested for trying to pick up a little action in an airport toilet, she has never been accused of dallying with an intern, she has never driven off into the ocean to leave a passenger to die a watery death in the back seat. Why should she think she’s qualified to serve in Congress?
The Tea Party phenomenon is only now beginning to be understood, and nowhere is it more of a mystery than among the wiseheads of Washington, who, Democratic or Republican, regard themselves as divinely appointed to regulate the universe, align the stars and choose who should be elected to office. The Tea Party phenomenon is a revolt against the arrogance of these elites, a wave of indignation that threatens to sweep away rubbish, offal and debris of decades of accumulation. The typical Tea Party voter is not concerned with the fate of whoever is foolish enough to stand in the way of the wave.
Mike Castle is typical of the elites, who not only don’t understand what’s going on, but also, in their insular - and insolent - arrogance, have no interest in trying to understand. He has a moderately conservative record: votes against Obamacare and the ruinous stimulus scheme, and he is expected to vote to extend the Bush tax cuts. But the idea of running as a conservative was odious to him. He had been governor of Delaware and has served in the House since before Noah’s flood, so why should he have to abase himself to ask for a voter to cast a vote for him? Voters should have been honored to do that. He could have read the papers and noticed that candidates who look a lot like him were being sent to the gallows in Alaska, Utah, Pennsylvania and Colorado, with more on the way. But that was asking for too much, too.
The old credentials aren’t so important this year; Tea Party voters are apparently eager to punish past crimes and settle scores with old rogues, as well as to anoint new rascals. If it costs a Senate seat or two, those one or two are expendable in the larger cause. There’s nothing like the prospect of a hanging, as Dr. Johnson famously reminded us, to focus a man’s attention. Mike Castle and friends like Karl Rove just couldn’t figure out who they were building the gallows for.
c Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.