Purity versus Pragmatism

The Tea Party, like all social movements in America, is facing the dilemma of making inroads in mainstream politics or focusing on articulating its message as clearly as possible.  By virtually all accounts (e.g., NY Times here), the Republican nomination of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware for Senate has undermined what was an excellent prospect for a pick-up.

Even if we let go of Ms. O’Donnell’s particular issues (Karl Rove says she’s “nutty“) the purists have a harder time winning general election than candidates who can move to the center.

And this case isn’t unique:  While Republican nomination of purists in Alaska and Utah are a good bet to win anyway–in Alaska and Utah, other cases are tougher.  The insurgent conservative campaign of Doug Hoffman–against a moderate Republican–virtually handed Democrat Bill Owens the Congressional seat from New York’s 23rd district, a district that had been Republican forever.  The Republicans may take that seat back–but Hoffman is running again.

Republican Senate candidates Sharron Angle (Nevada), Rand Paul (Kentucky), Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) and Marco Rubio (Florida) are a tougher sell in their general elections than the alternatives they defeated–or scared off.  Some of them will win.  Maybe this time all of them will win, but the focus on purity is a high risk strategy for social movements in America.  (Read any good history of the Populist movement or think again about Ralph Nader’s presidential candidacies to remember this.)

I’d add that Madison set the system up this way!

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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One Response to Purity versus Pragmatism

  1. Pingback: When the Snowe flies: Tea Party overreach? | Politics Outdoors

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