WASHINGTON – Call it a civil war, an insurrection or merely an insurgency. any measure, the establishment leadership of the Republican Party has lost control and is now being pulled along toward an uncertain future.

What happened Tuesday in Delaware, where conservative Christine O’Donnell shocked moderate Rep. Michael Castle in the Senate primary, may have been the snapping point inside a party whose leaders have watched nervously as “tea party” activists delivered a series of embarrassing rebukes to establishment-backed candidates in primaries across the country.

The overnight reactions split dramatically inside the GOP, judging from e-mails flowing in the wee hours, as party strategists and others attempted to digest what by all accounts was the most stunning outcome in a year of surprises.

Good for the tea partiers, said some GOP strategists. They are the leading edge of an anti-Washington movement that will wipe out the Democrats in November and threaten President Obama’s reelection hopes in 2012. Message trumps messenger and the message this year is stop the madness in Washington. People in, Washington out!

Not so, others argued. Politics is about addition, not subtraction. The tea party forces have substituted purity for common sense and are engaged in a purge of the Republican Party that now makes winning a Senate majority far harder in November. Whatever the outcome, the tea party movement’s conservatism could leave the center of the political spectrum open to Obama and the Democrats.

These arguments will continue to rage between now and November and very likely after the the midterm elections.


There will be no certain answers about the future for the Republicans; there never are in a political climate that can shift as dramatically as it has from 2004 to 2006 and 2008 and now to 2010.

But there is no question that Republicans are riding a tiger in the tea party movement. Delaware wasn’t the only shocking result Tuesday. In New York, Republicans turned against the establishment candidate for governor, former representative Rick Lazio, in favor of a bombastic conservative businessman, Carl Paladino.

Whatever happens in November, the leadership of the party is on notice that the grass roots is watching, sternly, and is prepared to punish anyone who strays from what they perceive as party orthodoxy.

“Voters just smashed the establishment right in the teeth,” said Kevin Madden, a GOP strategist. “The voters in Delaware were thoroughly uninterested in aligning themselves with the perceived status quo, to the degree that they’re even willing to risk losing a Senate seat.”

Ed Rogers, a Washington lobbyist and veteran GOP strategist, said he worried that the tea party movement will cost Republicans in November.

“The energized minority wing within the GOP, that was supposed to help the party have major gains in November, is instead killing a few of our best candidates in the primaries,” he said. I fear on election night, we in the GOP will revel in our purity while Pelosi and Reid celebrate their reelection.”


But Alex Castellanos, another Republican strategist, said the only people who could have been surprised by the Delaware result, after what happened in Kentucky, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and elsewhere, were those in an out-of-touch “royal establishment” who think the country wants more business as usual in Washington.

“Americans don’t want government to work,” he said. “They want it to stop working because they suspect every time it does work, they pay a price. Harry Reid ought to be quaking in his shoes.”



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