With his recent criticisms of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell on Fox News, Karl Rove kicked up a controversy. His critique of O'Donnell was granular and well-informed. Having worked with Karl for a number of years, I know that he is nothing if not detail-oriented. Rove has taken O'Donnell to task for her checkered financial past, her history of litigiousness and paranoia, her misleading statements about her educational background. These facts may not be disqualifying for office, but they indicate a flawed, inexperienced, perennial candidate on the model of Alan Keyes.
While Rove's critique was tough, the reaction in parts of the conservative blogosphere has been unhinged. Michelle Malkin wrote that it "might as well have been Olbermann on MSNBC." Mark Levin pronounced Rove at "war against the Tea Party movement and conservatives." "In terms of the conservative movement," wrote Dan Riehl, "we should not simply ignore him, but proactively work to undermine Rove in whatever ways we can, given his obvious willingness to undermine us."
This reaction is revealing -- and disturbing -- for a number of reasons.
First, it shows how some conservatives view the business of political commentary. Rove obviously has strong views on O'Donnell, based on personal experience with the candidate. But deviations from the party line are not permitted. It is not enough to dispute Rove's critique; Rove himself must be punished. The message is clear: The facts do not matter. Politics is war carried on by other means. Anyone who doesn't consistently take one side is a traitor.
This attitude can be found on right and left. But a serious commentator cannot think this way. He owes his readers or viewers his best judgment -- which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else's ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line -- the Tea Party line.
Second, the ferocity of this criticism indicates a growing arrogance. Tea Party purists, on the Internet and elsewhere, clearly believe their ascendance makes other elements of the conservative movement unnecessary. But victory in a Republican primary electorate of 60,000 is Delaware does not make the Tea Party movement predominant in the Republican Party, or even in the conservative movement. If Tea Party activists believe they can win in a political coalition so pure that it doesn't include strong, mainstream conservatives such as Karl Rove, they are delusional. And they are hurting their own cause.
Third, some conservatives seem to display special venom for those who are "compromised" by the experience of actually winning and governing. Rove, according to Malkin, is an "establishment Beltway strategist." Actually, he is a former high-level policy aid to the president of the United States and the primary author of two presidential victories. This does not make him always right. But it means he has had responsibilities bigger than running a Web site. This is an advantage for a commentator, not a drawback.
In Tea Party theory, inexperience is itself seen as a kind of qualification. People like O'Donnell are actually preferable to people like Rove, because they haven't been tainted by public trust or actual achievement. This is the attitude of the adolescent -- the belief that the world began on their thirteenth birthday. It is also a sign of childish political thought.