'Unruly' Conservatives Shock the GOP in NY-23

Politics in America has become so predictable in recent years that the possibility of a shocking upset in a federal election has all but disappeared. Sure, you get the occasional eyebrow raiser such as Hillary's completely unexpected win in the New Hampshire primary and Mike Huckabee's surprisingly easy victory in the Iowa caucuses.

But due to the way congressional districts are drawn these days and the enormous advantage incumbency grants those who are already serving, upsets are few and far between.

Even rarer are successful challenges to the party establishment. This is no surprise given the way both parties arrange things when it comes to elections. Candidates are actively recruited, showered with money from the national party, introduced to people who can shake the money tree for more, and given access to political professionals who help build a serious organization in order to give them every chance to win.

In short, the system is rigged against outsiders who want to horn their way in on the party's action. Challengers who seek to upset the applecart are ignored, left to wither on the vine as money and expertise flow to the party's handpicked favorite.

This is the nature of a political party, so it does no good to bemoan these facts. You may as well be asking an anteater to stop munching on termites and switch to snarfing pate de foie gras than demand that a political party refrain from exercising their power to choose your representatives in Congress or the Senate.

Except that every once and a while, a perfect set of circumstances arises and a challenge to the establishment becomes not only possible but inevitable. And the insurgents who are making the challenge benefit by latching on to a populist wave that was either previously hidden or not believed to be serious by the elites.

Two weeks ago, a betting man would have given you pretty good odds for Dede Scozzafava to win the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district against the Democrat Bill Owens and Doug Hoffman, a little-known accountant running on the Conservative Party ballot line. But, in what may be a harbinger of how wacky and wonderful the 2010 midterm elections might be, Scozzafava, after dropping in the polls to a distant third, has suspended her campaign and the previously unknown Hoffman appears to be the favorite to take the seat.

The wave that very well might overwhelm the Republican establishment in New York's 23rd congressional district has actually been building since before 2006, when the conservative base realized that they were voting for people who talked a good conservative game on the campaign trail but changed their spots once they got to Washington. The issues were overspending by the GOP majority, corruption, and the failure of most Republicans in Congress to adhere to conservative principles. And exit polls from 2006 showed a large number of righties staying home rather than continuing to support incumbents who used them so cynically.

The anger only built in 2008, when longtime conservative foe John McCain won the nomination and proceeded to run one of the more lackluster campaigns in modern history. Even his choice of Sarah Palin could not undo the years of badmouthing the base for which McCain received praise from the New York Times but little else. Exit polls from that race showed at least four million fewer conservatives voted for McCain than voted for Bush in 2004.

Then came the Obama phenomenon and the wave became a a living force, animated by fear of what the president was doing to America and coupled with the seeming inability of the Republican establishment to effectively counter the president's radical agenda.

With no national Republican officeholder picking up the leadership mantle, it fell to talk show hosts and pundits to organize resistance to Obama's plans. It may be argued whether this is truly a good idea, but it is hard to argue with success. What was once a largely dispirited, disorganized, and aimless GOP grassroots has become a dynamic force of resistance over the past few months with the organized opposition to national health care reform manifested at town hall meetings during the summer, the wild success of the tea parties, and, most importantly, the sense of empowerment those events imparted to the masses of conservatives who wanted to do something to fight the liberals.

What has happened in NY-23 is that the newly empowered conservative base decided the national party had gone a candidate too far in choosing liberal Republican Scozzafava to represent them and decided on their own to adopt third-party candidate Doug Hoffman, while telling the GOP establishment to take a hike.