- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Republican Party has been so captured by its more conservative, if at times unreasonably radical, elements that it ousted Tuesday a mayor whose pragmatism earned him national praise and renominated a 20-term legislator for Congress whose ethics probes had become a symbol of corruption and a clarion call for term limits.

With all the speculation that the GOP had been torn asunder by the Tea Party movement in its bid to refashion the party in its own image, one might be inclined to believe, wrongly, that anecdote. One splashy headline after the next has fomented the expectation that the lunatics had stormed the hospital, with loony policies abounding: Social Security to be phased out; the Department of Education to dissolve; and the 14th Amendment to be repealed.

But it was not the Republican Party that caved Tuesday night to deep-pocketed labor unions or willfully overlooked a career of stunning ethics violations in its intraparty contests in Washington and New York City. That’s the kind of change in which President Obama’s Democratic Party believes - though if generic ballot polls are an accurate indicator of the national mood, it’s not the change for which Americans signed up in 2008.

In Mr. Obama’s own backyard, Democrats succumbed to the teachers union’s relentless assault on incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his top education deputy for many of the same reforms the president supports.

The Fenty administration saw the firing of some 200 underperforming teachers and advocated merit pay for individual performance as measured by students’ test scores.

With Tuesday night’s upset, Mr. Fenty’s reforms - and his once-rising star in the party - fell into the bureaucratic chasm he had worked for years to close.

Whereas Mr. Fenty had four years before accomplished what no other mayoral candidate had in District history by winning all 142 precincts, the mayor lost Tuesday night after the teachers unions carpet-bombed his campaign with upward of six-figures-worth of negative advertising. Mr. Fenty’s fall from grace, both quick and hard, netted him a 7-percentage-point loss - roughly the same margin by which Democrats nationwide are trailing their Republican challengers.

As most handicappers are now predicting, Republicans are poised to sweep the House and defeat a handful of the most senior members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

A Fox News poll of five key Senate contests - Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California - revealed the Republican nominees were leading their Democratic opponent in four of five instances; the fifth was a statistical dead heat.

In Colorado, the latest Reuters-Ipsos poll has Republican Ken Buck registering a full 9 percentage points ahead of incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, who narrowly survived a bruising primary battle last month. And in nearby Nevada, where Democratic operatives have been furiously working to characterize the candidate and her party as extreme, the GOP’s Sharron Angle is tied at 48 points with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the latest Rasmussen survey.

But the most appropriate rejoinder to Democratic criticism that the GOP has gone off the rails is not to observe that polling indicates supposedly extreme Republican candidates are leading or in contention with incumbent Democrats. Rather, it is to offer this simple reminder: You renominated Charlie Rangel.

Though the 80-year-old lawmaker has been plagued in recent years for his increasingly brazen ethics indiscretions, Mr. Rangel all but secured his 21st term Tuesday as local Democrats named him the nominee of the heavily Democratic Harlem district.

No reasonable party would endorse the candidacy of a man whose previous misdeeds include the leasing of several rent-stabilized Harlem apartments while using one as a base of operations for a previous re-election effort, failing to disclose upward of $75,000 in income from beachfront Dominican Republic property, securing tax benefits for a company whose chief executive he was courting as a potential donor to his private foundation, and the undertaking of two corporate-financed tropical junkets in 2007 and 2008.

No reasonable party would oust a mayor whose aggressive school-reform campaign had won national accolades in a school district where, at the outset of his reforms, only 9 percent of ninth-graders were expected to earn a college degree in nine years.

And yet the Democratic Party did both to appease its radical elements. So much for the unelectable, extremist argument.

James Richardson, account services director at Hynes Communications, served as online communications manager for the Republican National Committee in 2008.