Oh what a difference two years can make. Back in April '08, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist enjoyed sky-high approval ratings over 70% and was a serious candidate for Sen. John McCain's vice-presidential running mate. Along with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, he was considered one of many rising stars of the Republican Party. Whether justified or not, they were packaged and marketed as moderates; Republican light. But they're all fairly hard-line conservative politicians. Yet to today's far-right-extremist Tea Party fringe, these guys might as well be Barney Frank. And that's great news for Democrats, who stand to benefit hugely as the misguided, small-minded passions of Tea Baggers serve to split GOP tickets across the country....thus sabotaging the party's chances of regaining power in November.
Jump to April 2010, and Crist can't get himself arrested as he tries in vain to win the Senate seat vacated by Republican Mel Martinez and currently held by George LeMieux, his former aide and appointee. This week he announced he was defecting from the GOP and will run without party. Back in the fall Crist held a huge lead over his Republican challenger, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio. Rubio went from trailing 22 points to leading by 18. The Democrat in the race, U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meek, is running third. Rubio is a Tea Party favorite. So is Crist's defeat a Tea Party victory? Hardly.
What we're seeing in various national campaigns is a foreshadowing of the Republican Party's ruination. The party has been hijacked by Tea Bag radicals; super-duper hard-line right-wing fanatics who comprise the absolute smallest wing of the party yet have the loudest voice. They've handed over the reins to rabble-rousing propagandists like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich, and in the process effectively kicked out pols who now do appear moderate/centrist by comparison. As former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean asked this week, "Is this a sign that people, perhaps centrists or moderates, like Charlie Crist, have no place in this new emerging Republican Party?" The answer is yes. And that will be the GOP's final death knell.
Consider what former President Ronald Reagan said after he defected to the GOP: "I didn't leave the Democrat Party, it left me." That's exactly what's been happening to the more moderate conservatives across the nation as the Tea Baggers have ratcheted up their racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-government radical attack rhetoric. And Crist is not alone in his defection. Arlen Specter switched parties last year after realizing he could no longer win as a Republican. To be sure, the Tea Party is making political life very difficult for candidates who would've been shoo-ins prior to this movement's controversial emergence last year. Over in Utah, Bob Bennett faces an extremely tough primary race even though he's conservative enough to have earned an A grade from the National Rifle Association, an 84% rating from the American Conservative Union and 98% from the Chamber of Commerce.
In Arizona, Sen. John McCain is seriously threatened by primary challenger J.D. Hayworth, watching his once sizable lead shrink to around 5 points. For Indiana's Senate seat being vacated by Evan Bayh, former Senator Dan Coats is facing a stiff challenge from state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, who's got far-right backing and support. In Kentucky, Rand Paul (son of Ron) is the Tea Baggers' favorite, yet it is Trey Grayson who has the support of party leaders. There are similar stories elsewhere such as California, Colorado and of course the swing state of Florida.
In a year when Democrats are supposed to be shaking in their boots over the GOP Bogeyman's big gains in November that'll sweep them back into power, it is the Tea Party that Democrats may be thanking a few months from now for pouring scolding water on the Republican "revolution."
Keep up the good work, Sarah, Michelle, Glenn, Newt and the rest of ya. Keep splitting those tickets. We Democrats just love 3-way races...