OD'd in Delaware

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Never underestimate a political party's capacity for self-wounding. Democrats expect to lose the House in November partly because the base is uninspired. "Apart from universal health care, far-reaching reform of financial regulation, and an $800bn stimulus, what has the Obama administration ever done for me?" Now the tea party, having (among other things) given Harry Reid a good chance of victory in a state that wants him gone, finally goes postal in Delaware. Take an easy victory, turn it into a likely loss -- and let joy be unconfined. "What does it matter if this costs Republicans control of the Senate? Better a Democrat than a RINO."

It's the principle of the thing.

The interesting question about the O'Donnell farce is whether it will have national implications. Of course, if it does end up costing the GOP the Senate, that's a huge national implication right there. But aside from that, might it affect other races? Might it affect support for Republicans more generally? I think it will.

A party that nominates O'Donnell is a party unfit to govern. Many centrists and independents, previously ready to swing over to the Republican side, are likely to take that view. It may not persuade them to vote Democrat this time, but it will reduce their enthusiasm to vote GOP. Also, the Republican Senate nominee for Delaware is no longer a minor curiosity, as she has been up to now, but a national figure. If you thought John Boehner made a tempting target for Democrats, check this out. The national press will crawl over her record. There will be TV interviews ad nauseam. Message: this is the cutting edge of the new Republican party. If GOPers like Karl Rove think O'Donnell stinks, what are centrists and independents going to say?

The big question about the tea party was whether it would divide the Republican party so badly as to outweigh the gain its people delivered in energy and commitment. On the one hand, you had Scott Brown (suggesting tactical flexibility in pursuit of electoral victory); on the other, Sharron Angle (suggesting a preference for purity over power). The issue is now settled. O'Donnell could push the party from internal tensions to outright civil war. And let's not forget, Sarah Palin endorsed her. The challenge for the party was to accommodate  Palin and her activists without dividing and without repelling moderate opinion. O'Donnell makes that all but impossible.

I was just reading Charlie Cook's latest column: "Can Republicans run out the clock?"

[E]lections aren't over until voters decide they are over. But unless a large number of Republican officeholders and candidates begin taking stupid pills every morning, the odds of Republicans picking up more than the 39 seats needed to win a majority in the House are very high, and in the Senate, a net gain of between eight and 10 seats looks probable.

In Delaware, the Republicans OD'd on stupid pills. It was the best day for Democrats since November 2008.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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