Hell of a political year so far, eh? The Tea Party Express just ran over its second establishment Republican in the past few weeks, and since Delaware’s victorious Christine O’Donnell doesn’t seem to stand much of a chance in the fall, this time the Democrats are likely to be the real beneficiaries. Meanwhile, former congressmember AND former governor Mike Castle gets to spend the rest of the election season kicking back with Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and trying to figure out what went wrong.
Here’s one clue, buried in Justin Elliott’s article on the Tea Party Express in today’s War Room. It turns out that the organization is sitting on a big, fat email list of 400,000 Tea Party enthusiasts willing to cough up enough individual donations for the group to bankroll advertising for Joe Miller in Alaska and O’Donnell in Delaware to the tune of close to a million dollars. Sound familiar? A big email list of small donors was key to Obama’s victory in 2008, and here again we see a tool often ignored in favor of flashy social media actually proving to be decisive. Email + a website that takes credit cards = still the most important technology in online politics.
This emphasis on small donations is also an indication of the true grassroots nature of much of the Tea Party organizing, no matter how much establishment figures like Dick Armey and FreedomWorks might try to hijack the movement (note to Dick: REAL Tea Partiers don’t compromise, not even in November). These folks are no happier with the Republican establishment than they are with Obama and the Democrats, and as they learn to turn their passion into political results, the Right looks to be suffering at least as much as the Left. Going rogue, indeed!
Already in 2008, it was obvious that Republican fear-mongering over Obama and designated whipping boys like ACORN risked waking up some very ugly strains in the American psyche, and we’ve seen them become virulent in the anti-Muslim backlash over the past couple of months. The craziness is likely to get worse before it gets better, but even if passions do fade a bit after the 9/11 anniversary, Republicans are still stuck with a gaggle of candidates (Miller, O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul) who may cost the party as many votes as they gain. Republican leaders may have opened the bottle back in 2008, but now that genie is far too powerful to be put back easily. And if Tea Party voters don’t get what they want in November, the Republican establishment looks like it’ll have to work some serious magic to avoid feeling their wrath for the next couple of years.
In other words: live by the crazies, die by the crazies…and a good omen for the Democrats in 2012?