Party Must Not WasteTime On Pretenders
That was the response of Gen. Anthony Clement McAuliffe of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division when presented with surrender terms from the Germans in World War II's Battle of the Bulge.
And it's the response of much of the media, many Democrats and even some Republicans to the Tea Party movement's surprising successes in GOP primaries.
For Gen. Mc-Auliffe, it was an expression of disdain and derision at the thought of surrendering to the Nazis.
For today's political establishment, it's a telling expression of disdain and derision for a movement it fails to understand.
The establishment - let's lump into this category politicians and pundits, mostly to the center and left on the political spectrum, but also some of those who consider themselves to its right - generally point to two "Tea Party" candidates as proof the movement is "extreme" and "out of the mainstream." Those candidates are Christine O'Donnell, who is running for the Senate in Delaware, and New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.
And do you know what? They're probably right. But as we'll discuss in a moment, that doesn't matter.
Ms. O'Donnell beat out the former Delaware Gov. Mike Castle, a self-acknowledged "moderate." The voters were in no mood for moderation, it seems, and the Tea Party favorite beat him in the September primary by six points.
But Ms. O'Donnell comes off as more than a little loopy. And comedian Bill Maher appreciated this - he used her in his "Politically Incorrect" television show 22 times in the 1990s. He's been leaking tapes of some of her more outlandish statements.
As for Paladino, he beat out a number of Republican hopefuls, including frontrunner Rick Lazio, for the GOP nomination for governor. But he's got issues, it seems - such as threatening reporters and trying distracting the media from his marital indiscretions by pointing out the indiscretions of his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo (they've both admitted them).
But neither Ms. O'Donnell nor Palandino are truly representative of the Tea Party movement. And the movement need not spend a moment of time defending them or their antics.
Both rode the Tea Party wave, to be sure, but even more so they both ran on a "none of the above" platform.
Their races - both likely to be losses for the GOP - are politically meaningless.
Consider Ms. O'Donnell's primary opponent. With the Senate probably still in Democratic hands, an unreliable GOP senator (seeking to preserve his image at home as a moderate) would be no different than another Democratic vote (much like Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine). The race is a wash.
And sending a Republican, any Republican, to Albany - the seat of one of the most dysfunctional state governments in the nation - is like sending Dr. House to the site of a train wreck. No matter how good he is, there are limits to how much good he can do. Little of national importance could be accomplished by a New York governor, in the best of circumstances. Under the current circumstances, little at all can be accomplished there by anyone. So again, it's a wash.
Tea Party participants (we can't call them "members" of anything, really), can and should wash their hands of both candidates. They're not what the movement is about. For better examples, we can look closer to home, and much farther away.
The Texas Legislature is going to be shaken up by new members supported by - if not affiliated with - various Tea Party groups. In a number of cases, moderate Republicans were booted out and replaced with fiscal conservatives. House District No. 7, which covers part of Smith County, was taken away from Rep. Tommy Merritt by David Simpson, a former mayor of the tiny town of Argyle. Merritt was one of the moderates who teamed with Democrats to elect Speaker Joe Straus last session. Something tells me Straus won't be holding that gavel in January.
Another example of what the Tea Party movement is truly about can be seen in the Alaska Senate race that knocked off incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The challenger, former U.S. Magistrate Joe Miller, was a political unknown. What's significant here is that Sen. Murkowski can't accept the defeat. She's ready to split her party's vote by running as a write-in against Miller.
Why are these candidates - rather than Ms. O'Donnell and Palandino - more representative of the movement? They both have solid conservative records (as distinguished from Republican records). They've been in public service before and are thoughtful, intelligent candidates didn't jump on any bandwagons - they're not even holding the batons. They're grassroots candidates, not attention-grabbing opportunists.
Those who gauge the mettle of the Tea Party movement by the anomalies - the ones they can conveniently call "nuts" - are not only misreading the movement, they're misreading the moment.