Who is electable?

Well, lots of people the establishment told us were not. And now, many establishment types are telling us Christine O’Donnell’s victory was pyrrhic: An ill advised spasm of childish petulance. They rush to tell us that William F. Buckley would have disapproved.

Buckley suggested this rule: Support the most conservative candidate who is electable.

In light of d’Tocqueville’s observation that a Democracy will tend toward statism, the Buckley rule can be a strategy of incremental retreat. The most conservative available candidate may drift leftward as the voters entitle themselves and Parties seek power rather than good governance. This consequence is quite evident today. 

Another problem: Taken as absolute by dedicated partisans, it will fail to take advantage of a period where the determination of who is “electable” is tremendously uncertain. The rule, therefore, tends to restrict the possible in favor of the “certain.” Following it we should have ignored Scott Brown’s candidacy, and Rand Paul’s. We should have ceded Wisconsin to Russ Feingold. Chris Cristie should never have run. Mario Rubio, electable as a state Senator and not as a US Senator, should not have challenged the GOP favorite.

I do not think Mr. Buckley would be pleased with these references to his “rule.” Mr. Buckley, after all, was a strong supporter of Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy when Nelson Rockefeller was arguably more electable, and as far to Lyndon Johnson’s right as is Castle to Coons’. I do not remember Mr. Buckley objecting to Goldwater’s acceptance speech line: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Goldwater lost, but it is widely accepted that Ronald Reagan would never have been president if not for the work Goldwater did to prepare the way. It is a multi-year game and we accept the unprincipled, mediocre party hack at our peril. Electing a Mike Castle is an incremental defeat. It defines the deviancy from principle up.

Mr. Buckley never intended a refusal to test the limits of the possible. He certainly never believed electing Republicans was job one.

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