In 2006, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rahm Emanuel, conceived a strategy to help his party pick up House seats in culturally conservative congressional districts. He found candidates like Heath Shuler, the former Washington Redskins quarterback, to fit comfortably in North Carolina's 11th congressional district. Rahm did not insist that his candidates adopt every point of the Democratic National Committee's platform. He promised to help them, only if they demonstrated that they could carry their own weight. At the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the brain trust latched on to candidates like James Webb from Virginia, a brilliant, temperamental former Republican Secretary of the Navy, and Jon Tester from Montana, an actual organic farmer. The more it became clear that Democrats would have a natural enthusiasm advantage -- this was, after all, the punish-Bush-for-Iraq cycle -- the more of these candidates become viable. To be sure, the Democratic base pushed back against the intrusion of the parties in several cases, winning primaries. (The Netroots did not appreciate Emanuel's hand-picked candidate for Henry Hyde's old seat in Illinois, and never really forgot his casual dismissal of their preferred choice.) In the end, though, the tension was healthy, keeping the establishment candidates in check, and the Democratic rank and file did not seem to even remember the primary battles by the time the election rolled around.
And Republicans in power now will resist that, because they know that demography is not in their favor, and that midterms can skew the cast of an electorate temporarily. There's no question that the GOP will have to integrate the Tea Party into its processes, procedures and culture. That means that they will have to be very sensitive to perception ... to, say, the presidential primary rules, making sure that the party appears to have little power to set limits and select delegates. It means that the GOP will need to keep its distance from Washington lobbyists, assuming that the Tea Partiers will genuinely do the sort of internal policing that the Netroots currently do for Democrats. It means that the GOP will need a significant, credible Tea Party figure in its leadership ranks at a high level immediately after the election. It also means that the party will need to find a way to demonstrate to regular Americans, 80 percent of whom either dislike or have no opinion of the Tea Party, that they are merely a party that ventilates rage, but a party that can govern and get things passed even in an environment where senators are going to be objecting to unanimous consent votes much more regularly.