We're nearly half way through October and the press still seems mystified by the strength of grass-roots conservatism. The race between perennial candidate and some-time witch Christine O'Donnell and her mealy eyed opponent, is a nearly perfect example of how this year's midterms continue to be weave a narrative the mainstream media just can't seem to get its head around (see here for example). Does the tea-party represent a rightward shift in the American electorate, or has the election of a black president really driven white America over the edge? What no one seems to be asking, however, is whether or not this movement might actually be a big red flag for the red-party. Considering that GOP turnout for the Delaware primary was just 32%. you would think the press would have been less impressed with O'Donnell's win than they were. Granted, 32% is pretty good for a midterm primary, but it also means that Ms. O'Donnell won by just over half of what is really a pretty paltry number. And that's 32% of registered Republicans, not the entire electorate. Libertarians and moderates, it seems never even bothered to show up. So far the tea-party phenomenon looks less like a barometer of the electorate's mood and more like an internal struggle for representation within the Republican party - something that goes on in every primary, every election.
While it is possible that the take over of the GOP by its most extreme fringes very well could mean that the party has gained conservative converts, it could also mean that the GOP has lost the confidence of moderate conservatives. And it's this latter case which could spell trouble for the GOP going forward. Even if they can win enough seats to claim victory in November, a tea-party dominated GOP is only likely to alienate moderates even further. With nowhere else to go, these voters might swell the ranks of the unaffiliated, distilling the party even further, which will alienate more voters, distilling it further and so on. In other words, the less appealing to the middle GOP candidates become, the more they risk increasing the appeal of the opposition - or worse, inciting moderates to just not show up at all. This mass of unaffiliated, generally turned-off voters would be a prime recruiting ground for a third party. It is, of course, nearly impossible to tell which scenario is currently playing out until the results in November. However, if it is the latter, then big tea-party wins will likely mean big-time trouble in 2012. The GOP is banking on the tea-party to gain influence in Congress. Maybe in this case they should have been more careful with what they wished for.