Tea Party Becomes Bigger Force Than Anticipated

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The Republican primary in Delaware has sent tremors through the party. When Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell took the nomination away from Rep. Mike Castle, that race went from an almost automatic Republican win to a very likely GOP loss. Republican strategist Mark McKinnon talks to Linda Wertheimer about where the Tea Party rebellion is taking the Grand Old Party.


The Republican primary in Delaware has sent tremors through that party. When Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell took the nomination away from Congressman Mike Castle, the race went from an almost automatic Republican win to a very likely Republican loss.


We asked Republican strategist Mark McKinnon to consider where the Tea Party rebellion is taking the Grand Old Party and what the GOP primary choices and victories, like Christine O'Donnell's, might mean for November and beyond.

Mr. MARK MCKINNON (Republican Strategist): The good news for Republicans is the Tea Party is capturing the anti-establishment energy in America. The bad news is, is that includes the Republican establishment. And the O'Donnell victory has really, you know, thrown a grenade into our Republican politics here, as we've discovered that the energy now is emotional and not very practical in terms of the Republican prospects for the future.

Because while O'Donnell is an anti-establishment candidate, it's clear that she is not a good candidate for the general election and will likely lose. And so it's probably likely that the Democrats will retain the Senate now.

WERTHEIMER: This whole election sounds like something so basic has changed in politics. It's just been axiomatic that voters could be mad at Congress or they could be mad at a particular party, but they tended to still like their own representative in Congress. Do you think that's really changing or are we over-interpreting a relatively small number of voters who are active in Republican primaries?

Mr. MCKINNON: I think, if anything, we've under-interpreted. That was the message from Delaware, that this is much stronger, much bigger than any of us anticipated. And it's gotten to the point where people don't like even their own representatives anymore. They want them all out. They want to start from scratch; they want to burn the house down. It's ugly.

WERTHEIMER: Is it a good thing?

Mr. MCKINNON: I think it's both good and bad. I mean, I think it's good that we're getting the attention of our elected officials to make sure they're listening to what's happening in America. But I think there's a lot of irrational behavior going on out there and not a lot of thinking about, you know, what sort of policies do we need, going forward, to fix the problems that we've got.

WERTHEIMER: There seem to me to be two kinds of, sort of, rebellion candidates that this primary season is producing. Some of them are completely over the top; some of them are perfectly stand-up, you know, straight ahead people -except very, very, very conservative.


WERTHEIMER: What do you think's the biggest problem in that group, or do you think it matters?

Mr. MCKINNON: Well, I do think it matters just in the sense that the people that are likely to be elected are going to be a much different strife of Republicans. You know, it's going to be more conservative. The Republican Party is going be more conservative and it's creating a significant shift in terms of the direction and the platforms and the thinking of the Republican Party. So, that's going to have long-term consequences on our policy and our politics.

WERTHEIMER: Sounds like you think this is going to change things, big-time, for the Republicans.

Mr. MCKINNON: I'll tell you one thing that I think's going to happen, is that if you look at the results and look at what happened to Delaware, it starts to paint a picture where you can see a pathway to a GOP nomination for somebody like Sarah Palin.

WERTHEIMER: So, what do you think is the strategy for the Republican establishment at this point? Just go with it and give them all the money they need?

Mr. MCKINNON: I think the Republican establishment is freaking out. I mean, I think people like Mitt Romney and others are looking at this and going, oh my God, you know, what am I going to do about these Tea Party folks and Sarah Palin? And I think they're deeply concerned about, you know, how they're going to put together their coalition, now, to govern and to try and get somebody nominated in 2012.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.

Mr. MCKINNON: All right

WERTHEIMER: Mark McKinnon is a Republican strategist. We reached him, traveling in the state of Washington.

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