Moderation in the Face of Extremism is No Virtue

I’ve got a post up at Democracy in America about last night’s primary results, responding to the various pieces talking about how the Tea Party has finally invaded the Northeast and woe is us for the lost age of moderate Republicans.

My point, basically, is that if you don’t want to wind up with a candidate like Paladino in New York, you don’t try to win in a year like this with a candidate like Rick Lazio, someone nobody could possibly get excited about. If you want to ride the wave, and not get swamped, you have to put up people who actually know how to surf, who can speak to the concerns of the moment and who are actually capable people.

I have no love for the Tea Party, or for populism generally. I think populism is actually impossible. Elites make the decisions, and politics is a game of capture-the-electorate. But the Tea Party is a fact, and ignoring or decrying facts doesn’t help anybody. There are moments when the electorate loses confidence in the elites, and too many times recently the GOP has responded to this fact by either trying to order their base around (saying: vote for this guy because he’s electable, and we don’t want to blow this chance) or pandering to the basest instincts of the base (by fawning over radio talk show hosts, elevating symbolic culture-war issues to litmus test status, and so forth, all to try to prove that they’re really “one” with the people). Or, often enough, both simultaneously. And I don’t see how either of these strategies can possibly win back the people’s confidence. Confidence can only be regained by showing actual leadership – saying to people: this is what’s really important, and this is what we’re going to do that the other guys can’t or won’t. There are Republicans who are doing that – Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie are two examples I cite – but not enough and precious few on the national level.