Pretty soon, though, I believe conservatives will have to stop wallowing in delusion and self-pity. And there are excellent signs that this is already happening. The most promising Republican Senate candidates for 2010 are Mike Castle of Delaware, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Simmons of Connecticut, and, assuming he actually has the guts, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania. All of them are moderates with a proven record of winning the votes of suburban independents and even Democrats. This doesn’t represent any grand reinvention strategy, but it’s the way change starts happening. If these four candidates actually win their races, they will become a powerful bloc that can start moving the GOP closer to the American mainstream.
It may be that these candidates are promising (Castle has an early lead over Biden’s son, Kirk stands a decent chance against Burris and Simmons is running against the badly damaged Dodd), but what do they have to do with ending the conservative “wallowing in delusion and self-pity” that Reihan describes? Part of the “wallowing” in question, being delusional, involves ignoring political reality. Conservatives by and large have been missing that this attitude is distinctly counterproductive and clears the way for the moderates and “reform” types–the ones they cannot stand–to seize the moment and deliver electoral results at the very least. Should moderate Republicans succeed in delivering those results, likely in the teeth of conservative opposition, this isn’t going to shatter conservative delusions, but will instead convince them that all that is required is to shout louder. Reihan says that the kamikaze option is a canard, but tensions on the right have reached a point where you have people who have very different understandings of what a kamikaze option means. There are some conservatives who think that some kind of creative adaptation to the current predicament is essential, even though they may disagree wildly about what to do, and they view a kamikaze approach as the path of the modern, ultimately futile suicide attack. Most conservatives are convinced that if they change nothing and stand by what they call principle, all will be well. They seem to understand kamikaze in its original meaning based in the belief that divine intervention will destroy their enemies.
It seems to me that conservatives are going to try to mobilize against as many of these moderate candidates in primary campaigns as they can (this is already happening in Florida), and they are not going to want to accept the leadership of a new group of moderates even if they prevail next year. The “way change starts happening,” as Reihan puts it, is apparently for moderate Republicans to assert themselves as the new face of the party, which conservatives are going to resist fiercely. All of this is not going to end the “wallowing in delusion and self-pity,” but seems more likely to intensify it. It also seems to be a good way to deepen the divide between rank-and-file partisans and GOP leaders and to ensure that the national party faces an even more demoralized and rebellious base.
Then again, even the moderates Castle and Kirk went along with the unanimous opposition to the stimulus bill, which I assume is going to come back to haunt them next year if the recession does indeed end by late ’09.