Here's the statistic that sticks in my craw regarding the victory of Chris Christie last night: 38%. That was the vote percentage for Barbara Buono, Christie's Democratic opponent. Do you know what Christine O'Donnell's vote percentage was in the 2010 Delaware Senate election? It was 40%. Both Buono and O'Donnell were running races everyone knew they'd lose, but O'Donnell was, in addition, an extremist and a lunatic. And yet she still had a higher vote percentage than Buono.
That's not intended as an insult of Buono. She tried. She said in her concession speech last night that she was betrayed by Democratic party bosses who didn't want to cross Christie out of self-interest, and she's right -- but party bosses didn't help O'Donnell very much, either. (Watch Buono's concession speech here.)
The problem is the voters. Republicans vote Republican, passionately. Democrats vote Democratic ... fitfully. Under the right circumstances, Democrats are willing to cross very, very far to the right (if not all the way to the right) to back a Kochite right-winger like Christie. Exit polls show that he got 32% of the Democratic vote, and 31% of the liberal vote. He won 60.5% of the vote even as a ballot measure raising the minimum wage won 60.8%. Exit polls also show that Hillary Clinton would beat Christie 50%-43% in a 2016 presidential matchup. But he won big anyway.
Yes, I know: the story of this election is that Republican establishmentarianism had a pretty good night, at GOP extremists' expense. But it was a struggle.
Establishment donors had to help their very conservative candidate in Alabama's 1st congressional district, Bradley Byrne, get past
Weld County, the largest of 11 Colorado counties with a secession referendum on the ballot, rejected the proposal -- but
And the Virginia governor's race? What the hell happened there? The wingnuts nearly got Ken Cuccinelli elected, and now they're angrily asserting that the Cooch would have won with a little more help from the party. Yes, Terry McAuliffe was no prize, but we still live in country in which a purple state can nearly elect a radical like Cuccinelli. And E.W. Jackson got 44.5% of the vote as lieutenant governor? Seriously? A guy who thinks yoga is satanic ran six and a half points better than Barbara Buono?
The wingnuts are still fired up, and they've dragged their party very, very far to the right, even if a few countervailing forces have kept it from being dragged all the way off a cliff. And this drags our politics as a whole to the right, to a point where the likes of Chris Christie can be treated as a moderate, and embraced by liberals.
And now we get to hear that Chris Christie is the living embodiment not just of what the Republican Party needs, but what America needs. I got in a brief argument yesterday on Twitter with Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns & Money about the value for the Democratic Party of challenging Christie this year. I say it would have been worth it even if his ultimate victory was never in doubt, because now his image as a healer is being etched in stone; soon you'll try to argue that he's a bully and excessively right-wing, and swing voters nationwide will have such a good feeling about him that they simply won't believe you. The press and the GOP Establishment are in the process of turning him into what Barack Obama was as he emerged on the national stage -- someone voters really believe when he says he can heal America's divisions. Christie's reputation could have been tarnished this year; Democrats may live to regret that they never made the effort.
UPDATE: Charlie Pierce is right -- Democrats are making the same mistake with Christie that they made with George W. Bush:
[Christie] is not a "powerful national candidate." He's weak and he's insecure and you can make him pop his cork as predictably as Old Faithful. In fact, your job, Democratic panjandrums, was to make him a national candidate before he is ready to be one. It was to make him a national candidate on your timetable, not his. Define, define, define. Spend whatever it takes to do that....Exactly.
[Failing to do so] is the same ghastly strategy that aided and abetted the rise of C-Plus Augustus in Texas. It was their one opportunity to bloody him up, to wound him with ridicule until he (predictably) explodes, before the tingle rises up Chris Matthews's leg.