Unlike the British Conservatives, our Republicans are forcing out big-tent politicians of Crist's stripe wherever they can. When as solid a conservative as Utah's Sen. Bob Bennett is in danger of being denied renomination, you know that the right-wing Jacobins are on the march.
There's also this: The angry, incendiary and sometimes racist tone that is being projected at party rallies -- and by legislation such as Arizona's Don't-Risk-Looking-Hispanic "immigration" law -- is starting to give Democrats real hope that they might avoid electoral catastrophe this fall.
No sentient Democrat expects this to be a good year. But the closer the Republican Party is to the fringe, the easier it will be for Democrats to win back middle-of-the-road voters who have strayed since President Obama's election.
"All this hyperbole and outrage and the Tea Party tiger the Republicans are riding are pushing them over the edge," Rep. Earl Blumenauer said last week. The independent-minded Oregon Democrat [more liberal than 84% of congressmen in 2007] is not given to partisan outbursts, but he sees the extreme posturing of Republicans combined with "the insanity of what's going on in Arizona" as having the potential of changing the year's political trajectory.
In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labor Party is trying to hang on by insisting that Cameron's changes to the Conservative Party are merely cosmetic. Democrats don't have that burden. Here, moderate Republicans are being forced to plaster themselves with right-wing makeup just to survive. Or, like Charlie Christ, they're deciding to go natural, and leave.
The opposition to Lieberman is motivated by an effort to reverse the trend to the right. It's true that Lamont's campaign has been energized by widespread opposition to the Iraq war and the fact that Lieberman has been one of the most loyal Democratic defenders of President Bush's Middle East policies.
But Lieberman's troubles are, even more, about a new aggressiveness in the Democratic Party called forth by disgust with the Bush presidency -- an energy comparable to the vigor that a loathing for liberalism brought to the Republican right in the 1970s and '80s.
Like the earlier generation of conservatives, today's Democratic activists are impatient with accommodating the powers that be. They demand that Democrats stop trying to chase a "center" that has veered ever rightward since 1980. Instead, they want to haul that center back to more progressive terrain. That's why so much of the political energy in Connecticut seems to be with Lamont. [If you switch "progressive" and right" you will get exactly what the Tea Party are saying today - and yet E.J. Jr. is strangely not buying it].
Lieberman's core problem was not even his support for the Iraq war. It was his eagerness to challenge the legitimacy of fellow Democrats who have called attention to the administration's mistakes. Lieberman, confident of Democratic support, seemed to crave the affection of Republicans most of all.
The statement that did more than anything to power this primary challenge was a comment Lieberman made in December.
"It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years," Lieberman said, "and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." The implication that there is something wrong with criticizing George W. Bush is unacceptable to most Democrats, who believe that Bush himself has done the most to undermine his own credibility.
...As for this primary, the lesson already is clear: A Democratic Party that has been on defense since the 1980s desperately wants to go on offense. Lamont understands that. If Lieberman is to survive this round, he needs to make clear between now and next Tuesday that he's gotten the message.