For grass-roots Republicans, their go-to example illustrating the duplicity of the Republican establishment is the Mississippi primary between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel, where the GOP bigwigs resorted to mobilizing Democrats to protect their sitting Senator from a Tea Party insurgent. I don’t want to talk about that case, but rather the case of Christine O’Donnell, the 2010 Republican Senatorial candidate in Delaware. I want to focus not on how she became the candidate (by defeating Mike Castle), but on what happened after she won her nomination.
O’Donnell is significant these days because she has become the poster child of the kind of Tea Party candidate who is in over their head, and who is therefore preordained to fail: in short somebody who should not be allowed to become a Republican standard-bearer. OK, let’s take that characterization at face value. Now also take at face value the assertion by GOP elders that they are the consummate professionals of the Party, who understand how politics really works and who have its true interest – properly understood - at heart.
Now if this were all true and suddenly the Republican establishment woke up one morning to find Christine O’Donnell as a Republican senatorial candidate, wouldn’t their response be to say, OK, she’s not ready for prime time, but she’s got an R beside her name and she is running for the Senate. We’ve got to make the best of a bad situation and send a SWAT team of consultants and advisors down to Delaware to shore her up. Because you never know, with a little bit of luck and a tailwind, we might even keep Democrat Chris Coons out of the Senate. If they had done that, who knows, perhaps she might have had the kind of advisors who would have axed her disastrous I-am-not-a-witch ad. (I know I know, it is a very iffy to assume that the Republican Party actually has strategists competent enough to do this, but that subject merits a post of its own.) The thing I want to note here is that none of this happened.
What happened instead was that they did everything possible to undermine her - somebody they themselves acknowledged was in a weak position already. For example, the day after Christine O’Donnell won the Republican Primary, Karl Rove went on Fox News (or was in MSNBC, I forget), and trashed her publicly. If the GOP were really run by sober professions who cared about the greater good above all else, would they not have had Rove keel-hauled over these destructive and counterproductive comments?
From Christine O’Donnell’s primary win to election day, the behaviour of the Republican elite was entirely consistent with the suspicion held by many grass-roots conservatives that the GOP insiders are mediocrities who are more interested in maintaining their position in the party – their party - even if it means losing an election.
They act as if they would rather be the top dogs in a losing team than lesser members of a winning team. And that’s why their core supporters hate them. And this is why they rally to outsiders like Donald Trump.