- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 15, 2010



An appetite for tea grows in Flyover Land. There’s an appetite for a robust Earl Grey or a smoky Darjeeling, and even a lukewarm apricot-blueberry herbal can sometimes warm the thin blood of frightened Democrats.

Looking for clues to the future in the fine print of party primary results is often a fool’s errand, and some of the statistics from election night have conflicting tales to tell. But there’s nothing from the Tuesday primaries in Connecticut, Georgia and Colorado to soften the prospect of bad news coming to Democrats in November.

Tea party favorites won Republican nomination for both governor and U.S. Senate in Colorado, and the incumbent Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, seemed to be trying to steal a little tea party mojo. He took a congratulatory telephone call from President Obama after he survived a close primary challenge, but insisted that he has learned “one thing.” Washington, he says, has a lot to learn from Colorado. “It is long past time to cast off the do-nothing, divisive politics of the past and get to work.” A draught of apricot-blueberry herbal can provoke even a Democrat to rhetoric like that.

Ken Buck, the tea party favorite who edged Jane Norton for the Senate nomination to challenge Mr. Bennet, echoed the boiling anger of voters: “Fear, apprehension, concern — it’s hard to put a finger on it. That troubled state of mind takes no partisan corner. The Republicans are as much to blame for the mess we’re in as Democrats.”

Well, yes. But the finger Mr. Buck thinks is searching for a target looks like the middle-finger salute to the Democrats who are calling the shots in Washington, as well as to any Republican stray who resembles a Democrat. Democratic voters may have set up Mr. Bennet, like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, for the actual teachable moment in November. Considerably more Republicans voted in their primary than Democrats in theirs.

In Connecticut, Ned Lamont was a flavor of the month when he defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in a celebrated Democratic primary four years ago, lionized by the “mainstream media.” He was briefly the toast of uptown Connecticut. Then he lost to Mr. Leiberman, running as an independent. But that was then and this is now. He spent $9 million of his own money to run this time for governor, and learned that “chewing gum lose[s] its flavor on the bedpost overnight.” He was buried in a landslide in the Democratic primary Tuesday to a former mayor of Stamford.

The Republican establishment’s preferred candidate won the nomination for governor of Georgia, but not by much. Nobody was winning by much this week because nobody anywhere seems to trust anybody who has ever exercised power or held rank of authority. Nathan Deal used to be a congressman, leaving under an ethics cloud, and despite high-level endorsements — or more likely because of them — he barely won Tuesday night. When he complained in midcampaign that his opponent, Karen Handel, was making it too tough for him she told him to grow up, that it was time for him to “put on big-boy pants.”

This was the message for incumbents, for establishment candidates, for anyone who could remotely be identified with the wise guys in Washington or even in several state capitals. This continued the message of the tea party phenomenon, that it’s time for those who would be governors, senators — and especially presidents — to put on big-boy pants.

The primaries are throwing up rough-hewn nominees, some lacking sophistication and “nuance.” Dan Maes, who won the Republican nomination for governor in Colorado, was ridiculed for his warning that a Denver initiative to promote bicycle commuting, with 400 rental bikes stationed throughout Denver, was a scheme to put environmentalism above citizens’ rights and would even lead to environmental control by the United Nations. Ken Buck, the new Republican nominee in Colorado, was called “uncouth” when he denounced “birthers” as “dumbasses.”

This isn’t a good year for couth or nuance. When the natives get restless they’re suspicious of nuance and they’re not looking for sophistication. They’re often willing to cut a rookie a little slack if his heart seems to be in the right place. The guests and crashers at the tea party aren’t satisfied with something weak in the teacup.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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