Can Mark Kirk Save the GOP from the Tea Party? No, Seriously. - NBC Chicago
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Can Mark Kirk Save the GOP from the Tea Party? No, Seriously.



    The Republican Party has some quirky Senate candidates this year. In Nevada, Sharron Anglewants to do away with Social Security. In Kentucky, Rand Paul thinks certain aspects of the 1964 Civil Rights Act trampled on our Constitutional rights. In Delaware, Christine O’Donnell once equated masturbation with adultery.

    The worst you can say about our Republican, Mark Kirk, is that he thinks he flew a combat mission during the Iraq War. He’s not crazy. He’s justa serialmisrememberer.

    The best you can say about Kirk is that, unlike those first three candidates, he has refused to have anything to do with the Tea Party. According to Steve Stevlic, coordinator of the Chicago Tea Party Patriots, “the only campaign that has not reached out to us is the Kirk campaign.”

    Unlike Bill Brady, Kirk didn’t show his face at Right Nation 2010. Unlike state senate Republican leader Christine Radogno, he didn’t cancel because of a “scheduling conflict.” Kirk was never even on the bill.

    It might be good for the Republican Party -- and the U.S. Senate -- to have a GOP freshman who’s “not a teabagging maniac,” as a Democratic operative once said kindly of Kirk.

    In Slate, Chicago native Jacob Weisberg offered the best analysis yet of what the Tea Party’s ascendance means for the Republican Party:

    For the Republican Party, the rise of the Tea Party is the essence of mixed blessing. The political problem is how to co-opt the movement’s energy and motivational anger without succumbing to its incoherence and being tainted by the wacko voices within it. This is something the Democrats were fundamentally unable to do in relation to the New Left in the 1960s, and the Tea Party’s radicalism threatens the GOP in a similar way. We’ve seen party elders confront this challenge week by week through the primaries, with senior figures within the GOP furiously recalibrating their visceral horror at the nutball purity of a Rand Paul or Sharron Angle into expressions of support and encouragement. Liberals may be humoring themselves in seeing it as good news for them, but for the moment it's fun to watch slippery conservative politicians—Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich—scramble aboard the tiger.

    Kirk isn’t even trying to ride the Tea Party tiger. At the moment, he owes the movement nothing.

    Lucky enough to run in the nation’s first primary, in February, before the Tea Party Express had gathered steam, Kirk defeated a Tea Party-backed candidate by 33 points. Delaware congressman Mike Castle would envy that winning margin -- or any winning margin.

    Kirk is also lucky enough to be running in a state whose hard-headed political culture abhors extremism, from the right or the left. I wonder what the Tea Party would have made about Sen. Everett Dirksen, who was so blasé about government spending that he once cracked, “a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

    If Mark Kirk makes it to Washington, he may be one of the few moderates left in the Republican Party. And that's a good thing.