In politics, the usual scenario is for the party in power to bicker and self destruct while the party in the minority unites in a single-minded focus to regain power. This is not what is going on today in Delaware and in the conservative blogosphere.
If you are a political junkie like I am, you might know that there is a Republican primary for the Senate candidate from Delaware that is going on as I type. The contenders are Mike Castle, a popular and long-time politician, and Christine O'Donnell, a newcomer attempting to win her first election.
Here is the problem. Castle is a liberal Republican. A RINO, in popular parlance. He will make conservatives angry just as often as he'll make them happy. He would be very likely to win the election to the Senate running against the self-identified socialist who will oppose him under the Democrat banner.
O'Donnell is a conservative. She has staked out positions that have gotten her the endorsement of folks like Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint. Thing is, though, she trails the socialist by over twenty points. Delaware isn't red enough to elect her.
(There are other problems with O'Donnell; questions of character, actually, but this post is not really about Delaware or this election so I won't go into them.)
And so the battle lines are drawn. Palin, DeMint are on the side also taken by Rush and Mark Levin, who has been as nasty in his trashing of Castle supporters as anything I'd ever hope to read by a fellow conservative. On the Castle side you will find such venerable institutions as National Review, Weekly Standard -- even Charles Krauthammer.
Almost everyone invokes William F. Buckley's rule. You vote for the most conservative electable candidate. Krauthammer goes one step further and says that any other vote (in this case a vote for O'Donnell) is self indulgence.
I won't go that far, although I'm sure he's right sometimes. It's a question most of us face at one time or another, though. Do we vote based on principle or do we vote for the candidate with the best shot at winning in the general election?
The most obvious and self-destructive example of this is when a third-party candidate jumps into the fray. If Nader had not run for president it is likely that Al Gore would have won. Were the Nader voters (who presumably voted based on principle, knowing their candidate could not win) happier with Bush than they would have been with Gore? I'm sure some would say that from their perspective there was not enough of a difference between the two to matter. More rational folks would probably disagree.
I am a pragmatic voter. I understand voting on principle because I think most people (at least most people who attempt to get informed) start out this way. Our vote is sacred to us; we will not cast it for a compromise candidate.
Over time, however, my perspective has changed. I look at politics as a long (never ending) struggle. It is important to win the war, even if particular battles must be lost along the way. I would cast my vote for Castle because even though he will annoy me, a Castle in the Senate could mean the difference between a Harry Reid as the Majority Leader or a Mitch McConnell. Castle could be the difference between which party controls Senate committees, which party controls the legislation that is brought to the floor, etc. The election is about more than Delaware (although I'd ask my Nader question to Delaware conservatives: will they really be happier with a socialist in the Senate than with a RINO?).
I have also noticed that pragmatic voters seem to be more tolerant of principle voters than the other way around. I've been told that I am "perverting the voting process" (which, of course, is absurd -- the "voting process" does not include a litmus test about why someone votes the way they do; I could make it a habit of always voting for the tallest candidate and that would be perfectly within my rights and perfectly within the bounds of our voting process). Mark Levin, as I mentioned above, has been unbelievably rude to folks who disagree with him (he's a radio guy so I suppose that comes with the territory).
And back to Delaware: the battle has been so ugly that it seems impossible to imagine the losers backing the winning candidate. This means that an O'Donnell candidacy, already a long shot, becomes a fantasy. And a Castle victory, which should have been a walk in the park, will become challenging.