I’ve often written that there isn’t a way for Republicans around here to shoot themselves in the foot they haven’t thought of, but I that have great confidence in their ability to invent new ones. And once again, it appears they’ve done it. At their recent state meeting, the party ousted moderate former state legislator Luke Esser in favor of longtime conservative talk show host Kirby Wilber.
The Democrats immediately began gleefully proclaiming the R’s had elected Washington’s version of Rush Limbaugh as their new leader. Based on 16 years of his radio rhetoric, they could be right. Meanwhile, look for the Democrats to make Wilber’s radio tirades the focal point of their election rhetoric rather than individual candidates. In races where Republicans have good, solid candidates, or in closes races, look for the Democrats to use the "guilt by association" strategy — tying those potential winning candidates to Wilber's radio rhetoric — which has potential to undo many of the strides R’s made in 2010.
Esser was an even-handed, pragmatist who was very successful in recruiting better quality candidates than at any time in recent memory. Wilber says he wants to take the party in a “new direction” (Read: hard right). Voters want action and civility — not confrontational rhetoric. And while some Republicans were unhappy with the gains the party made under Esser in light of what happened nationally, I suspect under Wilber, the Republicans will have a hard time recruiting the quality of candidates the party desperately needs to sustain and strengthen the gains it made in 2010.