Commentary Magazine


Democrats Aid Tea Partiers

Sharron Angle helped herself in the one and only debate against the often incoherent Harry Reid. In the post-debate Rasmussen poll, she is up by three points.

Meanwhile, in the Kentucky Senate race, Democrat Jack Conway released a simply bizarre ad attacking Rand Paul’s Christianity. (Even Jonathan Chait finds the ad revolting.) The Paul campaign was justifiably indignant and struck back with an ad of its own.

So here are two Tea Party–backed candidates with a propensity to blow themselves up with controversial statements. But two weeks before the eelction, they are demonstrating the sort of discipline and focus one would expect of their more politically experienced rivals. It is the Democrats in both these races who seem in over their heads, if not downright desperate. This tells us two things.

First, campaign skills can be learned very quickly by bright candidates. Novice candidates who are willing to take advice from advisers can surpass expectations, especially if those expectations are steadily lowered by the media and their opponents. We shouldn’t confuse campaign skills with the ability to govern (if nothing else, Obama has taught us that lesson); but the notion that only handpicked, groomed candidates can survive on the national stage has proved to be, like so much else Conventional Wisdom, hogwash.

Second, when looking to check a presidential agenda that they detest, the voters are willing to accommodate some occasional rhetorical excesses. They are not, of course, electing a  chief executive; they are electing people to stop the chief executive from doing things they don’t like. It is hard for Democrats to scare voters by painting their opponents as extremists. So they must resort to ever more hysterical claims and attacks to convince the public that the GOP challengers are so far beyond the pale that they aren’t fit to hold office. As of yet, neither Reid nor Conway has been able to do that.

None of this is to say that any Republican can win in this environment. But by not taking their opponents seriously and relying on scare tactics to fend off challengers, Democrats are helping the neophytes appear more seasoned and reasonable than the incumbents. As a result, some vulnerable GOP candidates are looking fairly strong two weeks before the election.