This ‘Resistance’ Is No Tea Party
By Kimberley A. Strassel,
Remember Christine O’Donnell? The Democratic left is trying to emulate her.
Democrats don’t like to think about Republicans if they can help it. But for those on the left now contemplating their own “progressive tea party” movement, they’d do well to contemplate one woman in particular: Christine O’Donnell. In 2010 Republicans had an unusual opportunity to win the deep-blue Delaware Senate seat once held by Joe Biden. The vessel: GOP Rep. Mike Castle, a popular former governor and the front-runner. Enter Ms. O’Donnell. Fueled by tea-party enthusiasm and money, she trashed Mr. Castle as a liberal and beat him in the primary. After a general election that devolved into debates over gay service members, religion, creationism (and even witchcraft), Democrat Chris Coons blew out Ms. O’Donnell by 17 points. The conservative tea-party phenomenon is overall one of the more successful political movements in modern American history. Even the left acknowledges it now. Still, every movement makes mistakes. The tea party—especially in its early years, and given its decentralized nature—has had its share, including Ms. O’Donnell. By contrast, the entire concept of a progressive tea party is a mistake. It’s doomed at every level—because it is entirely premised on the O’Donnell model.
Consider the recent rallying cry of progressive star Markos Moulitsas. “The Tea Party didn’t really become a force until it started ousting Republicans it didn’t feel represented them,” he told the New York Times. “Democrats either need to feed, nurture and aggressively champion the resistance, or they need to get out of the way in favor of someone who will.” Message: Get with our agenda, or be purged. The progressives showing up for protests and demanding Supreme Court filibusters are determined to move their party aggressively to the left. Any Democrat who does not sign up for their policies and their resistance will face a primary. Perhaps we can forgive Mr. Moulitsas—and much of East and West Coast America—for thinking this is what happened on the right. Democrats never bothered to understand the right’s tea-party movement, and it shows. The tea party erupted for a lot of reasons, but a big one was frustration with Washington business as usual. Activists in the main weren’t demanding the Republican Party become something new, or ultra-right-wing. They were demanding the party—beset at that time by logrolling, earmarks and corruption—simply hold true to its stated and longtime principles of free markets and limited government. It was a quest for a better-quality product, not a different one altogether.
The Democrats’ problem is that all their reliably liberal states and districts are already occupied with good liberals, who take orders. Those members will joyfully boycott and filibuster and protest and obstruct. There will be no need for primaries. Those in the firing line are instead the Mike Castles of the Democratic Party. Joe Manchin.Heidi Heitkamp.Claire McCaskill.Jon Tester. These are Democrats in red states Mr. Trump won, up for re-election next year. They are the only reason Democrats remain within reach of Senate power. They will be tempted, for the sake of re-election, or their own convictions, to work with Republicans on nominations, health care, tax reform. The left’s tea party is threatening to make them pay for it by fielding ultra-left-wing primary candidates.
The question is how this accomplishes the progressive aim of an electoral wave that puts it back in power—a la tea-party conservatives. The left is banking that Mr. Trump and Republicans will blow this historic moment, and the public will revolt. That’s certainly possible. What’s less possible is that North Dakota voters—even if they are really mad at Mr. Trump—will vote to put an Elizabeth-Warren-like progressive in the Senate. Democrats might also remember another woman from 2010: Blanche Lincoln. The two-term Democratic senator from Arkansas caused liberal hysteria in 2009 when she chose to reflect her voters and spoke out against both the public option for health care and a pro-union measure called card check. Left-wing Democrats pummeled her back home and subjected her to a grueling primary. She won that primary, only to lose to Republican John Boozman in a landslide. Even an unsuccessful progressive tea party could be deadly for Democrats. The original tea party was about making conservatives in this center-right country act like conservatives again. The progressive tea party is about making Democrats in this center-right country act like Bernie Sanders. Have at it.
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