That is the question posed over at RedState.com by Ned Ryun in an important post that reminds us all that, stirring as they may be, the Republican primary victories by insurgent Tea Party conservatives like Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and many others are still just that - primary victories.
The key passage in Ryun's "The Opening Salvo" is this:
"What those of us who believe in free enterprise and limited government are confronting; an out-of-control bureaucracy, out-of-touch leaders, and fiscal irresponsibility, did not materialize overnight, and will not be changed overnight. It will take time to shift the massive ship of the American state and get it back on course.
"I would say that until we see a losing percentage of 50% or more for incumbents at all levels of government we cannot truly say that there is an anti-incumbent wave and that the American people are winning the war against the ruling class.
"That percentage will not happen in the next election, or even the next after that, but I believe it should the conservative movement’s goal to increase by 5-10% every year the number of incumbents beaten. The starting point is to simply challenge incumbents in primaries (between 2000-2008, a GOP U.S. House member had a 98.3-99.5% chance of winning his or her primary).
"I was asked by a reporter the other day if the “civil war” in the Republican Party was over. I told him I didn’t believe that there was a civil war: what’s taking place is people expecting Republican leaders to actually adhere to the principles of the party, and if they don’t, we can find leaders that do.
"He asked if I thought we’d see more of what took place in the 2010 primary season play out in the future. I told him we were just getting warmed up and to expect more of the same in 2012 and beyond. There are six Republican U.S. Senators that might need to be challenged in 2012. There are dozens of House members, and untold numbers of state legislators, county commissioners, city council and school board members who should also be primaried."
Think about that for a moment - if it's an anti-incumbent year when voters are so totally fed up and disgusted by what the professional politicians in Washington, the state capitols, and city hall have done, shouldn't more of them be defeated on election day?
As Ballotpedia points out - and Ryun notes in his post - hundreds of state legislators in both parties aren't even opposed this year! America's political class won't truly have a grassroots rebellion on its hands until incumbents in both parties routinely face the prospect of a primary challenge and defeat in the general election.
Here's a valuable piece of historical fact - Prior to the Civil War, it was not unusual for half or more of each new Congress to be freshmen. It was only after World War II that America's incumbent re-election rate skyrocketed to its present 90+ percent level.
The lesson is clear - a constitutional Republic needs constant turnover in its leadership, regular infusions of new blood, fresh sets of eyes, in order to retain its founding principles. Otherwise, entrenched politicians will come to view their offices as theirs by right and will do whatever they can to protect their power and perks.
Or, as Thomas Jefferson said:
"God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive.
"If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.... And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?"
Elections are how we put Jefferson's observation in practice. The election coming next month is just the first of many needed in the years ahead to be "anti-incumbent" years. Go here to read the rest of Ryun's excellent post.