A Conservative Earthquake, in New York and Beyond

Establishment Republicans are shrugging their shoulders. In the special election for New York’s 23rd congressional district, conservatives are abandoning the liberal Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, in droves.

Smug GOP establishmentarians are proving again that their political seismographs are badly calibrated. The GOP has lined up behind the wrong candidate at the wrong time. Conservatives aren’t going to follow their lead, in New York or elsewhere, anytime soon. Party bosses need to get back in touch or risk hard-to-fix ruptures with conservatives in 2010 and beyond. Conservatives, great and small, are coalescing behind Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party nominee.

New York allows minor parties on election ballots, giving the establishment Republicans a false sense of security as most other states don’t make such allowances. But the old logic that conservatives will have to fall in line elsewhere or risk electing Democrats may not hold. Conservatives are playing by new rules now, and the GOP isn’t showing any signs of getting it.

The GOP establishment persuaded Florida Governor Charlie Crist to jump into next year’s U.S. Senate contest. The nomination process was supposed to be tantamount to a Crist coronation. But then came Marco Rubio -- the young, bright, attractive former speaker of the Florida House, and a rock-solid conservative.

Where Rubio is unmistakably conservative, Crist is as wobbly and gritless as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. He embraced President Obama’s failure-of-an-economic stimulus from the start. He joined Senator Lindsey Graham and the climate zanies in supporting cap-and-tax initiatives, though lately he’s going wobbly on that commitment.

Crist, with name recognition, a statewide network, and buckets of money, has the edge. But Rubio is running hard, closing a twenty-nine point gap to fifteen. He’s won a dozen GOP county straw polls, and grassroots conservatives are making that happen. Crist has spent his time raising money and ignoring Rubio, but he’ll train his guns on the former speaker sooner than later as the primary approaches.

A year ago, the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly lose to a young, bright, attractive politician. Clinton had even more of the same advantages Crist has -- yet everyone knows the rest of the story, to borrow from the late Paul Harvey.

Conservatives are more energized than they’ve been in years, but they’re not just reacting to the leftward lurch of the president and Congress. They’re more keenly aware of their principles and of what they want to see and hear from candidates. “Anyone but the Democrat” isn’t a rallying theme anymore.