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09.14.10

A Suicidal Vote for Purity

Tunku Varadarajan rues the Tea Party primary victories that have no chance of general election success—and suggests it’s time for Republicans to drop the slogans and scare-mongering and come up with some real ideas.

The Tea Party has won its precious primaries. And I am stomping my foot as I write this, because that party has succeeded in handing American democracy back to the floundering Democrats.

In Delaware, Republican primary voters have delivered a gift to their opponents: the gift of near-certain re-election. Confirming the truth that primaries are but a sweaty, vulgar contest in which ideological bully boys stomp to the forefront, Republican die-hards have voted for “purity,” an elusive concept at the best of times, but in this context a vote for suicide.

We’re heading for an election where the opposition’s insurgents are in the ascendant, facing down the ruling party’s wobbly establishment.

The Tea Party was a great conservative and libertarian engine: I use both concepts, conservative and libertarian, because the activists are not ideological purists. Some want this, some want that, and some want who-knows-what. Tea Party-supporting Americans are not identical. I have met several, and I have yet to be able to plot a reliable graph based on their politics.

Daily Beast contributors on the primary resultsSo where are we? In effect, heading for an election where the opposition’s insurgents are in the ascendant, facing down the ruling party’s wobbly establishment. That is the broad narrative truth: And yet there are a whole lot of “outsiders” running for office, candidates who are not merely outside the broad mainstream, but also outside the generations-old political arrangements of this country.

But this may be in fact, perversely, a time for purity of ideas: As the Democrats press onto the national body the imprint of difficult times, it is left to the Republicans—even, in this case, the triumphant insurgents—to start to think of alternative ideas. Slogans and scare-mongering won’t cut it. The drawing board is now a demanding place. Wildebeest need not apply.

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow in Journalism at Stanford's Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU's Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)