Call it the Delaware Debacle. On Tuesday night, the First State went last (on the 2010 primary calendar, that is) and featured a marquee Senate showdown.
After Joe Biden’s elevation to the vice presidency, his seat was filled by his compadre Ted Kaufman, who opted against seeking the remainder of the term in this November’s special election. Dems turned to Biden’s son, Beau, the state’s popular attorney general and an Army National Guard captain, who ultimately declined to seek the seat. Frantic, the party settled on a perfectly acceptable candidate: New Castle County Executive Chris Coons. He, of course, would be their sacrificial lamb.
Coons was all but toast in the face of the Republicans’ all-but-certain nominee. Congressman Mike Castle has served Delawareans with distinction for the past four decades. Governor from 1985 to 1992 and U.S. Representative from the state’s single district ever since, he has enjoyed a tremendous degree of popularity rooted in his unique political DNA: Castle is a raging moderate – one of the most centrist Republicans to be found in the country, a fiscal hawk and a social liberal. The genteel, humble, wonky, beloved, universally known Castle was a shoo-in for the Senate. Republicans licked their chops as visions of sugarplums and landslide margins danced through their heads.
Then along came Christine. Freakishly enough, Christine O’Donnell looks like Sarah Palin, talks like Sarah Palin and espouses the same viewpoints as Sarah Palin. A failed Senate contender in 2006 and 2008, O’Donnell’s ethical track record would make Charlie Rangel blush. Gaffes, lies, insults, innuendo and general chicanery have characterized O’Donnell’s 41 years. She has failed to repay past campaign loans, lied about receiving college degrees, insinuated that Castle is carrying on homosexual affairs, been called deranged by the state and national GOP and been labeled a “complete fraud” by her ex-campaign manager. Yet she saw a chink in Castle’s armor and exploited it like there was no tomorrow, running a rabid “Tea Party” campaign against him. Her cause attracted endorsements and major boosts from the Tea Party Express, Sarah Palin and Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). She began to catch fire.
On Tuesday night, the unthinkable happened. With 53 percent of the vote to Castle’s 47 percent, O’Donnell seized the Republican Senate nomination. First thoughts by anyone with half a brain?: “Hello, Senator Coons!” While polls showed a Coons-Castle race to be a cakewalk for Castle, a Coons-O’Donnell race has never been remotely close. On Nov. 2, Christine O’Donnell will lose. Big.
In capturing the Republican nomination, O’Donnell took one of the GOP’s most surefire Senate pickups and turned it into a guaranteed humiliating defeat. Sadly, 53 percent of Delaware Republicans failed to recognize that Mike Castle’s consistent record of pragmatic statesmanship would serve their interests best in Washington. Instead, they bought into talking points about “liberals,”RINOs” and “the establishment.” Furthermore, any Delaware Republican worth his salt should have recognized the staggering degree of O’Donnell’s electoral ineptitude. Without Delaware, the prospects of a GOP Senate come next January just imploded.
The talking heads will make one critical mistake in their postmortems of this race. Count on frequent comparisons of Delaware to Alaska, where Republican incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski was felled by challenger Joe Miller three weeks prior. Granted, the surface dynamics might be similar, but I contend that something entirely different occurred in Delaware. Miller ran a tough, issue-oriented campaign predicated on his distinct ideas and substantive policy proposals. He certainly ran to Murkowski’s right, but he did so as a grown-up, with principled intellectual maturity and discipline. Miller is certainly a Tea Party insurgent, but his victory honors the Tea Party cause.
O’Donnell shames it. Say what you will about the Tea Party, but it is at its core a broad coalition of like-minded people concerned for their country’s future and hopeful for common-sense solutions like balanced budgets and lower taxes. O’Donnell’s cause is not that of fiscal restraint, but of herself. Rough though the analogy might be, I am forced to conclude that she is the GOP answer to Alvin Greene. Both are jokes of candidates who lack an understanding of the issues, and frankly each is a few fries short of a happy meal. They are embarrassments to their parties, boons to their opponents and blows to the decency and dignity of political discourse in our republic.
The Republican Party is ready to lead this country, but it must get its house in order first. Silly season is over. Tea Partiers absolutely merit a seat at the table. Dingbats do not.
Sam Dulik is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at sdulikthehoya.com. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.