The Right Opinion

The Buckley Rule

By Charles Krauthammer · Sep. 17, 2010

WASHINGTON – Tuesday in Delaware was a bad day not only for Republicans but for conservatives. Tea partier Christine O'Donnell scored a stunning victory over establishment Republican Mike Castle. Stunning but pyrrhic. The very people who have most alerted the country to the perils of President Obama’s social democratic agenda may have just made it impossible for Republicans to retake the Senate and definitively stop that agenda.

Bill Buckley – no Mike Castle he – had a rule: Support the most conservative candidate who is electable.

A timeless rule of sober politics, and particularly timely now. This is no ordinary time. And this is no ordinary Democratic administration. It is highly ideological and ambitious. It is determined to use whatever historical window it is granted to change the country structurally, irreversibly. It has already done so with Obamacare and has equally lofty ambitions for energy, education, immigration, taxation, industrial policy and the composition of the Supreme Court.

That’s what makes the 11th-hour endorsements of O'Donnell by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sarah Palin so reckless and irresponsible.

Of course Mike Castle is a liberal Republican. What do you expect from Delaware? A DeMint? Castle voted against Obamacare and the stimulus. Yes, he voted for cap-and-trade. That’s batting .667. You’d rather have a Democrat who bats .000 and who might give the Democrats the 50th vote to control the Senate?

Castle wasn’t only electable. He was unbeatable. Why do you think Beau Biden, long groomed to inherit his father’s seat, flinched from running? Because Castle, who had already won statewide races a dozen times, scared him off. Democrats had already given up on the race.

O'Donnell, a lifelong activist who has twice lost statewide races, is very problematic. It is not that the Republican establishment denigrates her chances – virtually every nonpartisan electoral analyst from Charlie Cook to Larry Sabato to Stuart Rothenberg has her losing in November.

Nor is opposition to O'Donnell’s candidacy a sign of hostility or disrespect to the tea party. Many of those who wanted to see Castle nominated in Delaware have from the beginning defended the tea party movement from the mainstream media’s scurrilous portrayal of it as a racist rabble of resentful lumpenproletarians. Indeed, it is among the most vigorous and salutary grass-roots movements of our time, dedicated to a genuine constitutionalism from which the country has strayed far.

And its complaint that it is often taken for granted by the Republican establishment (interestingly parallel to the often-heard African-American community’s complaint against the Democratic Party) is not to be dismissed. Tea partiers should not, as many of them fear, simply be used by the Republican Party as a source of electoral energy while their own candidates are ignored and dismissed. But the question is: Which of their candidates?

Marco Rubio in Florida is strong, serious, dynamic. He has a great future as a Republican leader. Joe Miller, who upset the Murkowski dynasty in Alaska, is a man of remarkable achievement: West Point graduate, decorated veteran, judge. Both will win.

Moreover, geography matters. Rand Paul may not be the best candidate in the world – it is not a very good idea to start your general election campaign by expressing reservations about the Civil Rights Act – but he is running in Kentucky. He will almost certainly win.

Delaware is not Kentucky. If Republicans want to be a national party, they cannot write off the Northeast, whose Republicanism is of a distinctly moderate variety. Scott Brown broke Republican ranks to vote for Obama’s financial reform. Are conservatives going to now run him out of the Senate? Wasn’t it just eight months ago that his victory in Massachusetts was hailed as a turning point in the campaign to stop the Obama agenda?

You don’t stop that agenda by nominating an O'Donnell in Delaware and turning a Senate seat from safe Republican to safe Democratic.

If DeMint and Palin want to show that helping O'Donnell over the top – she won late and by six points – wasn’t a capricious spreading of fairy dust, perhaps they should go to Delaware now and get her elected to the Senate.

You made it possible. Now make it happen. I would be happy to be proved wrong about O'Donnell’s electability – I want Republicans to win that 51st seat. Stay in Delaware and show us you were right. The beaches are said to be lovely in the fall.

© 2010, The Washington Post Writers Group

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31 Comments

Pondering Patriot said:

Charles, I believe you fail to see that this is truly "not ordinary times". We have been awakened to the destructive beast of progressivism. Is it possible that not all Democratic voters across America are in step with where their party leadership is taking them. That they can see more clearly now how those ideas will destroy the country they love too. These are extraordinary times and she will be elected. Our eyes are now wide open and we can now distinguish between a progressive Republican (votes with the Democrats) and an imperfect candidate who will vote with America.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 5:18 AM

Bruce R Pierce said:

That is the attitude that brought on the arrival of where we are at. The big problem with moderation is there is no end to it because it does not stand for anything. The mind set of picking someone just because they can win is dangerous, we have seen the effects. In many places the difference between Democrat and Republican candidates are nonexistant. This has to stop and a real choice between candidates must be presented to the People. Your thoughts are just as condisending to the People as the current Administration.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 8:11 AM

Milt said:

You missed the entire point: Castle was NOT a conservative. People like you who can't tell their friends from their enemies deserve to be over run and ruled with an iron boot.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 8:47 AM

g.wegmann said:

Doctor you missed the diagnosis! You have been within the Beltway to long! Outside the Beltway, Voters are tired of RINO's, and DEMS who are following the road to more government power over our lives. They said Christie could not win!

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 9:50 AM

Dale said:

I'm confused - Charles says that Castle was "unbeatable." O'Donnell, who the establishment types say can't win just WON over the "unbeatable" Castle. Thank God for the Tea Party.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 10:12 AM

ed smith said:

Mr Krauthammer:I have long respected you and your seeming iron will. You have lost me as an admirer with your reaction to the O'Donnell victory. What part of "pissed off and fed up" do you beltway pundits not get?

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 11:48 AM

SP said:

What the pundits fail to realize is that the Tea Party members see the election of RINO OR Demoncrats as a no win scenerio. Oh, Good, the republications will screw us over 3% less. Lets all stand up and cheer! The deep and abiding revulsion of the American people with weasel-word politicians and lawyers continues to grow.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 12:15 PM

KM said:

Mr. Krauthammer:You sound like an establishment Republican! Mike Castle is not a conservative and therefore does not meet the standard of "The Buckley Rule."

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Jayve in ABQ, NM said:

I immensely respect your opinion on all ranges of issues, but this opinion Charles..... You are just dead wrong. All the posts before me have summed it up nicely.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2:04 PM

TPN said:

As I recall the Founding Fathers were unpopular and in the minority.
"Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say, 'What should be the reward of such sacrifices?' Bid us and our posterity bow the knee, supplicate the friendship, and plough, and sow, and reap, to glut the avarice of the men who have let loose on us the dogs of war to riot in our blood and hunt us from the face of the earth? If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands, which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!" - Samuel Adams

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2:10 PM

Brad said:

Doctor K, I recognize O'Donnell has some serious flaws. Will she be one to "work well with others"? Will she be bipartisan? I hope not.Bipartisan is code word for surrendering your principles, Sir! I like the radio host Mark Davis am extremely saddened by your O'Donnell views.Could it be that the Delaware GOP folks actually know what they're doing?

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2:21 PM

DrACP said:

If a candidate supports Constitutional government, then her private issues and religious beliefs are inconsequential.You missed it on this one brother!

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2:22 PM

Dave in SoCal said:

Add me to the list. As I've said elsewhere in this forum, it's getting to where you can't tell the Republicans from the Democrats without a program. We need some real change, and we need it fast in order to begin turning back the clock on our 75 year long slide towards socialism. If O'Donnell can beat the unbeatable Castle, then perhaps she really can win it all.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2:39 PM

G. Brook said:

Charles writes: "You don't stop that [Obama's] agenda by nominating an O'Donnell in Delaware and turning a Senate seat from safe Republican to safe Democratic." He seems to imply that by choosing Castle you will be able to stop the agenda. Where is Charles getting his confidence that Castle (or other north east republicans i.e. Snow, Collins, etc.) will vote to stop the Obama agenda? Good heavens, it's reported that Castle said he wouldn't even vote to repeal Obama's Health Care Package. Doesn't Charles know that Castle isn't going to help stop Obama and the liberal Democrats?

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2:51 PM

maxine said:

Mr. Krauthammer,I admire you and usually agree with your viewpoints. About the vote in Delaware, I admit when I first heard your comments in reference to the outcome, I wondered what had gotten into you. Now, in hindsight, I realize you have given me "food for thought". It is my intent to do some more thinking, and reading, before I determine my own opinion about the victory given to Ms. O'Donnell. Once I do that, I will again begin my own campaigning for those people I hope will be elected in the coming election. I, too, believe we need to stop the rush to socialism this president is demanding of us.Thank you for what you offer; a calm, succinct, rational analysis of the ongoing drama our government perpetuates. Maxine in Texas

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 3:04 PM