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Primaries Show GOP In Disarray (But That Doesn't Mean They Can't Win)

As I write, Alaskans still don't know who won their Republican primary for U.S. Senate -- the incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, or Tea Party insurgent Joe Miller -- but the odds are now in Miller's favor. In Florida, Bill McCollum, the gubernatorial candidate endorsed by party establishment, was vanquished by the shady, self-financed health-care mogul Rick Scott. And Tea Party candidate Marco Rubio, running in the Republican Party primary for Florida's Senate seat, won his primary after forcing the establishment candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist, to abandon the G.O.P. in order to continue his bid to go to Washington. In Arizona, incumbent U.S. senator and former G.O.P. presidential nominee John McCain handily won his battle against Tea Party candidate J.D. Hayworth, but only after tacking hard to the right and campaigning with his former running mate, Sarah Palin -- who has been doing her bit to smash up the establishment Republican power structure. In short, the G.O.P. is a confused mess. It's not even that Tea Party supporters are themselves unified. As David Weigel reported Monday in Slate, the Tea Party vote was split in Florida between McCollum and Scott, just as it appears to have been in Arizona between Hayworth and McCain. Yet, despite all the madness, Republicans, be they of the Tea Party or establishment breed, will likely pick up seats in November's mid-term congressional elections. In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is running in a dead heat against the extremist, Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle. According to Tea Party organizer Eric Odom, speaking at the RightOnline conference in Nevada last month, Angle would not have won her spot on the ballot without the organizing of Tea Party Express, an offshoot of the G.O.P. political action committee, Our Country Deserves Better. And Tea Party Express is widely credited in mainstream media with Joe Miller's showing against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Miller also enjoyed the somewhat detatched support (conferred via Twitter and Facebook) of Sarah Palin, but the jury's out on just how much that helped him. Palin is viewed with a certain amount of skepticism in her home state for having quit the governorship before she finished her first term. The bottom line is this: The Republican Party is in a state of transition as the big-money players in the Tea Party movement -- groups like FreedomWorks, Tea Party Express, and Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund, make their bid to take over the G.O.P. from within. The elements of destruction necessary for making that bid also create fault lines and power vaccuums that allow for the emergence of self-appointed players such as Rick Scott. Chaos is a funny thing: it can be both creative and destructive. If they can figure out how, the Democrats could take advantage of that chaos to split off likely G.O.P. voters. It's equally likely, though, that the chaos within the G.O.P. will serve up ever more extreme and self-styled candidates who pose a threat to the republic unless the Democrats find the means of effective opposition.