Was Last Night Good for Sarah Palin?

Sep 15, 10 | 6:56 AM   byMichael Wolff
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“Every leading Delaware Republican knows that Christine O'Donnell is way out of the mainstream,” is how her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, happily analyzed the Senate primary victory of the Tea Party-supported, and anti-masturbation, candidate O’Donnell.

Well, that’s the question: What’s the mainstream?

It does seem that everybody, including Karl Rove, believes that the Palin-backed O’Donnell isn’t in it. But how far out of it is she?

Rick Lazio, himself rather far from the theoretical mainstream of New York voters, but an uncontroversial and dogged fixture in the Republican party, was defeated yesterday by Tea Party-backed Carl Paladino, a socially aberrant figure in too many ways to count. In other words, even if the mainstream is moving toward the Republicans (and that’s far from certain in New York state), these new Republican candidates are moving much more swiftly away from it.

That’s what the Democrats hope. That’s what the Republican establishment fears.

Except the other thesis is that the new mainstream is more and more becoming an inversion of the old mainstream. The old mainstream, precisely because it is the mainstream, is a handicapped place. It represents a type of behavior and a set of assumptions that can’t compete in terms of media, theatricality, or vividness of language, with more outré behavior and this new sense of political plasticity and fabulousness. I.e. the center cannot hold.

To wit: Everybody who is in the mainstream is as vulnerable as they’ve ever been; everybody who is out of it has a better chance than they’ve ever had.

You can reduce this to the variables in each race and—at least this is the mainstream wisdom this morning—give the advantage to the Democrats: Holy crap, the crazies are obviously nuts. Or you can analyze that what we are seeing is a rolling or expanding sense of permission to abandon the mainstream. How contagious is this? The conventional, the dominant, the normal, the standard, the established is not just hapless, it’s boring. Who wouldn’t, given just a little encouragement, want an alternative?

But how much of one?

There are two measures in November: the congressional majorities, how dramatically they might fall, or how stoutly (and unexpectedly) they might hold; and what it feels like for the more and more people when they depart the mainstream—does the euphoria and joie de guerre last through the night?

On this, Sarah Palin’s career rises or falls.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.

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