Life After NY-23: Beware the Coming of the RINO

There are many messages that come out of New York's 23rd congressional district race.

Yes, as a general rule it’s a good idea to work through the two-party system. The special circumstances of New York’s 23rd district, including the existence of a center-right Conservative Party that the Republican establishment ignored and the obvious liberalism of Dede Scozzafava, made this race an exception. But the final result illustrates the challenge of working outside that two-party system.

Doug Hoffman, who didn’t live in the district, was a poor candidate to play the role of knight in shining armor. The best conservative to win on Tuesday was Bob McDonnell, successfully running for governor in Virginia. McDonnell didn’t win just because he was a conservative. He was a good candidate and he understood local issues. The people of the 23rd district were being asked to support a candidate who didn’t live in the district and who was backed by national political players who didn’t live in the district.

The one lesson that doesn’t come out of this mess is the one that’s being pushed by many who advocate the nomination of more liberal Republican candidates. Tuesday night did not prove the need to embrace RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) as the party’s nominees. Rather, the opposite was suggested, as Scozzafava was the latest in a long stream of RINOs to turn on her benefactors.

I don’t use the term RINO as some do and apply it to everyone I disagree with in the GOP. In fact, I usually avoid the term. But there is no other word that applies to Dede Scozzafava, whose stances on the issues made her a favorite of the ACORN-backed Working Families Party. She’s a liberal Republican, with no allegiance to the party and its platform. That made it  easy for her to back the Democrat.

Membership in a political party is a contract. You don’t back the Democrat publicly as Scozzafava did. This was after Republicans spent $900,000 to save her campaign from her own worst enemy: Dede Scozzafava.

Of course, Scozzafava is only the latest of RINOs to knife the GOP in the back:

  • President George W. Bush, Senator Rick Santorum, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) tried to save Senator Arlen Specter from a well-deserved defeat at the hands of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Specter returned the favor by switching parties when it became apparent that his vote for Obama’s stimulus would cost him the Republican primary against Toomey in 2010.
  • In 2008, after losing a hard-fought Republican primary, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest endorsed Democrat Frank Kratovil. He also endorsed the election of President Obama.
  • Also in 2008, despite 30 years of support from Republican activists in Iowa, former Congressman Jim Leach endorsed Barack Obama for president.
  • Former Congressman Joe Schwarz endorsed Democrat Mark Schauer over the man who defeated him in the GOP primary of 2006.
  • The NRSC spent $1 million to save Lincoln Chafee from a primary challenge at the hands of a conservative mayor, but Chafee lost the general election. He became an independent and endorsed Obama.

When we talk about many of these people not backing John McCain in 2008, it should be noted that McCain was the most moderate GOP nominee since Ford, yet somehow he was still too conservative for these folks.

On the other hand, in the past few years you’ll find very few examples of  conservatives backing Democrats. The one example is former New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith’s decision to endorse John Kerry, a move he admits was a mistake that he now regrets.

Of course, Smith’s admission of error is not something you’ll hear from a RINO. They’re far too busy congratulating themselves and enjoying liberals stroking their egos. The left loves to praise the vaunted political courage of liberal Republicans knifing their own partymates in the back.

RINOs, those with no real reason or ideology for being a Republican, are the high-maintenance drama queens of the GOP. Jim Jeffords needed to be part of a singing group to keep him in the Republican caucus for as long as he stayed.

We’re not talking about pro-choice fiscal conservatives or even moderates, but rather people who vote as often with Republicans as they do with Democrats, if not, in many cases, more with liberals than conservatives. These people will always be high-maintenance, needing lots of ego stroking and nudging, because they’re not really part of the team and have no stake in the success or failure of the Republican Party’s agenda.

Smart business managers want to have as few of these people around as possible, avoiding them altogether if they can. But whoever charged Republican congressional leaders with being smart? Based on the endorsements of the NRSC, it seems that the Senate GOP wants as many of these high-maintenance people as possible.

I can see Connecticut and Delaware as states where a member of the Olympia Snowe caucus may be the only shot Republicans have. But in Illinois, Republicans as recently as 1998 elected Peter Fitzgerald, a solid right-of-center senator. To imagine that Colorado and Florida can only be won with liberal Republicans at the top of the ticket is nonsensical and creates needless problems for the future even if they do win.

If Republicans in New York’s 23rd district wise up, Bill Owens should be a half-term congressman who can one day tell his grandchildren that he once served in Congress. The GOP should come up with a nominee that is acceptable to the Conservative Party, and the Conservative Party of New York is not hard to please. It’s endorsed many right-of-center figures such as George Pataki and Al D’Amato.

Had Scozzafava won, conservatives would have never been able to get rid of her given the belief in the divine right of Republican incumbents to be re-elected. Of course, the time would have eventually come when Scozzafava would have delivered that Academy Award moment where she had to follow her heart and conscience and stand with the Democrats -- and not let the fact that Republicans had spent millions of dollars to elect her and keep her in office stand in her way.

Not every Republican needs to be as conservative as Jim DeMint. However, it’s not unreasonable to ask that if you carry the Republican banner as a candidate, you have some reason to be a Republican other than convenience or family birth.  Recent history has shown that individuals who can’t meet this basic test are not worth the time or effort of Republican leaders.