There has been a lot of talk about “purges” and whether “moderates” have a place in the Republican Party, but that certainly doesn’t capture the spirit of the drama that has just unfolded in New York’s 23rd congressional district.
Initially, the race featured Daily Kos-endorsed, liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava going toe-to-toe with Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman in an odd duck of a race. Despite the fact that this was New York, Scozzafava — who was selected in a back room — was too liberal for the district. Hoffman was charisma-free, and Owens wasn’t setting the world on fire either.
This fairly obscure special election was transformed into a hot national race after the national GOP organizations, the NRCC and RNC, chose to use their resources and clout to sandbag a conservative candidate in an effort to help a liberal Republican.
At some point, you’d think the Republican establishment would learn their lesson about interfering in races like this. They jumped into the Arlen Specter vs. Pat Toomey race in 2004. Specter won, but he eventually changed parties. They interfered in the Lincoln Chafee vs. Stephen Laffey primary. Laffey lost the primary, but Chafee then lost the general election and changed parties. Then, there was this year’s NRSC endorsement of Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio. In all likelihood, the only drama left there is whether Crist will change parties and endorse the Democratic candidate after the grassroots powers Rubio to victory over the NRSC’s handpicked Arlen Specter clone.
Despite the fact that conservatives provide most of the money, votes, manpower, and intellectual firepower in the Republican Party, the party establishment chose to spend $900,000 to try to help a left-of-center Republican defeat a conservative in a Republican “gimmie district.” After it became apparent that wasn’t going to work, the left-of-center Republican dropped out and endorsed the Democrat. When you look at the whole picture, what you see is an attempt to purge a conservative candidate, not vice-versa.
Of course, that’s certainly not the impression you’d get from reading Frank Rich’s latest column (“The G.O.P. Stalinists Invade Upstate New York“). Now given that Frank Rich would probably agree with about 90% of Stalin’s policy positions, you might think that this would be a positive column. Unfortunately, that’s not the case:
The right’s embrace of Hoffman is a double-barreled suicide for the G.O.P. On Saturday, the battered Scozzafava suspended her campaign, further scrambling the race. It’s still conceivable that the Democratic candidate could capture a seat the Republicans should own. But it’s even better for Democrats if Hoffman wins. Punch-drunk with this triumph, the right will redouble its support of primary challengers to 2010 G.O.P. candidates they regard as impure. That’s bad news for even a Republican as conservative as Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose primary opponent in the Texas governor’s race, the incumbent Rick Perry, floated the possibility of secession at a teabagger rally in April and hastily endorsed Hoffman on Thursday.
The more rightists who win G.O.P. primaries, the greater the Democrats’ prospects next year. But the electoral math is less interesting than the pathology of this movement. Its antecedent can be found in the early 1960s, when radical-right hysteria carried some of the same traits we’re seeing now: seething rage, fear of minorities, maniacal contempt for government, and a Freudian tendency to mimic the excesses of political foes. Writing in 1964 of that era’s equivalent to today’s tea party cells, the historian Richard Hofstadter observed that the John Birch Society’s “ruthless prosecution” of its own ideological war often mimicked the tactics of its Communist enemies.
… That America was lost years ago, and no national political party can thrive if it lives in denial of that truth. The right still may want to believe, as Palin said during the campaign, that Alaska, with its small black and Hispanic populations, is a “microcosm of America.” (New York’s 23rd also has few blacks or Hispanics.) But most Americans like their country’s 21st-century profile.
That changing complexion is part of why the McCain-Palin ticket lost every demographic group by large margins in 2008 except white senior citizens and the dwindling fifth of America that’s still rural. It’s also why the G.O.P. has been in a nosedive since the inauguration, whatever Obama’s ups and downs. In the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, only 17 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans (as opposed to 30 percent for the Democrats, and 44 for independents).
… Only in the alternative universe of the far right is Obama a pariah and Palin the great white hope. It’s become a Beltway truism that the White House’s (mild) spat with Fox News is counterproductive because it drives up the network’s numbers. But if curious moderate and independent voters are now tempted to surf there and encounter Beck’s histrionics for the first time, the president’s numbers will benefit as well. To the uninitiated, the tea party crowd comes across like the barflies in “Star Wars.”
Speaking of “denial of … truth,“ in Frank Rich’s world, liberalism is ascendant and conservatism has been put down like a dog, never to rise again. That’s why he incorrectly believes conservatives were foolish to choose to back a conservative candidate over a Democrat and a Republican who might as well be a Democrat. That win-win situation for a liberal like Rich was a lose-lose situation for conservatives. Wisely, something was done about it.