The Democratic Leadership Council was formed in 1985, after first President Jimmy Carter and then former Vice President Walter F. Mondale were defeated by Ronald Reagan and before Gov. Michael S. Dukakis would suffer the same gloomy fate three years later. The DLC’s leaders, who included Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, eventually the group’s chairman, sought to steer the Democrats away from the left, arguing that the party was addicted to liberal nominees who were doomed once they faced Republicans in the general election.
Now, many on the tea party right are employing the same idiom to describe their predicament after two consecutive losses to Barack Obama, an opponent who in some ways was as different from his predecessors as Reagan was from his. Bozell’s critique of Republican regulars: “Their idea of the most ‘electable’ presidential candidate was Mitt Romney, and before him John McCain and before him Bob Dole, and we have all seen the results.”
Sen. McCain’s ideology has been impossible to describe until recently, when he has become a reliable pugilist on the right, but hardly anyone could reasonably describe Mitt Romney since 2005 or Bob Dole since 1923 as anything but conservative. Indeed, for many years Dole, now softened in temperament but not in passion, personified Washington conservatism — that may be Bozell’s beef with him — and was able to explain his few adventures in centrist consensus by saying he was interested in making a deal (as he did with several bills coming out of his Senate Finance Committee in the 1980s) or helping his farm constituents (as he did in his support of food-stamp legislation).
The regulars’ view of the tea party insurgents is rooted in Republican losses in Senate campaigns in Missouri and Indiana in November and in Delaware, Nevada and Colorado two years earlier.