Its fairly obvious that there's a massive change brewing in the depths of the GOP. Although the Tea Partiers and the "grassroots" have made it clear that Obama is their primary enemy, there's another front that's come to light in this war; the mainstream conservatives are now taking on the tough job of purging their party of big-government bureaucrats from within. Nowhere is that more evident than the battle taking place in NY-23.
Silvan Johnson adores Sarah Palin, belongs to a conservative discussion group and fumes at President Obama's spending policies. But when it comes to picking a new congressional representative for her upstate New York district, she is in no mood to help the Republican Party.
In fact, Johnson and many other conservatives want to use a Nov. 3 special election to teach the GOP a lesson about sticking to conservative values -- even though that lesson could mean the party loses a House seat it has held for decades. The conservatives are backing a third-party candidate, splitting the Republican vote and giving the Democrat a lead in some recent opinion polls.
That last part really depends on who you ask. Some polls, now, after over a week of fervor surrounding Doug Hoffman's upstart third-candidate campaign against GOP choice Dede Scozzafava, it seems Hoffman is starting to appear in the lead in district polling.
So what happened? Well, for starters, in the Bush years, the Republicans made a mockery of the conservative tradition, refused to stand in the way of bigger government, fed the beast of entitlment spending and expanded spending until Washington was bloated and, worse, intensely intrusive into the private lives of American citizens. In essence, they became no better than the Democrats they claimed to despise, alerting millions of American citizens to a truth they'd ignored out of fear: the people we send to Washington end up being, um, well, the people we're constantly trying to get out of Washington. And the electorate got sick of it.
I imagine this hit the Republicans first because for Republicans, bloating the Federal budget and poking into people's lives is, essentially, hypocritical, if you consider what were (at one time before we threw them entirely out the window), conservative values like smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom. Say what you want about Sarah Palin, but she seems to have drawn forward a renewed commitment to what used to make the party one to believe in: the values and principles that are supposed to make up the foundation of the GOP.
So, of course, when the GOP, using its recently-traditional MO, decided to appoint Dede Scozzfava, someone who may as well have a (D) after her name, to a seat vacated by John McHugh who was recently named Secretary of the Army, the "base" got angry and have spent the last few weeks actively rebuffing the party standard-bearers, even mainstays like Newt Gingrich in an effort to prove that conservative candidate who represents the values of the grassroots conservatives is more desirable than someone who, well, represents Democrats. Scozzafava is a pretty traditional moderate who leans to the left on most social issues (she has liberal views on gay marriage, won the Margaret Sanger award for her support of legal abortion), but who seems to have no opposition to raising taxes and supporting large government programs.
As a larger strategy, Newt Gingrich (who has openly and repeatedly endorsed Scozzafava), and other Republican mainstays seem to believe the road to more widespread success is to support moderate candidates whose beliefs seem to reflect the American psyche. In a sense, their theory should pan out, particularly if, when in office, the GOP were effective at passing relevant legislation that served the American people. As such, it seems the actual American psyche seems to be socially moderate (they've got that one right), but fiscally conservative. Sure, I can't claim to hold sway with American voters on the whole libertarian thing, but even if I'm a teensy bit warmer than the GOP establishment - and I'd like to think I am by virtue of being human - the natural electable "moderate" would be someone who favors a more culturally aware social agenda but who stays true to the fiscal policies that should, in effect, differ Republicans from Democrats. Anything else seems like a waste of time.
Which brings me, then to Dede Scozzafava.
As Adrienne at Motivation:Truth puts it:
Scozzafava is no conservative. She is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), and we can no longer afford to elect people who are not willing to stand up for the principles the people expect them to. Too much is at stake. She does not set herself apart from Democrats, so why would any Republican, who truly cares about principles, support her? It makes no sense.
Its true. No Republican will vote for her because she's not Republican. And if, for some reason, I wake up deranged tomorrow morning and decide to vote for a Democrat, why would I vote for a...Republican? There's a perfectly acceptable Democrat who is already in the race and that one won't threaten to sell his constituency of moderates and Democrats down the river in the event he wakes up deranged one day and decides to actually vote Republican. Poor metaphors being as they are, let me simply say this. Republicans want to vote for Republicans. Democrats want to vote for Democrats. And everyone wants someone to vote for who represents the ideology they themselves have come to support.
So then, does it make sense to nominate a Democrat for Republicans? Probably not. A few years ago, this might have been a good strategy, like giving dog food to the cat or giving me a giftcard to Payless. He'll eat the food, but only because its food and its better than not eating. I'll buy the shoes, but only because I need shoes, not because I want to support Payless's commitment to terrible, uncomfortable footwear at not-that-great prices (seriously, Target has good shoes. Meijer has good shoes. WalMart has good shoes. Payless has crappy, overpriced shoes). In the last decade or so, Republicans were pretty well content to vote for big-government moderates like (yeah, I'm going there) George W. Bush because they were just that much better than the alternative, and in George W. Bush's case, not married to Theresa Heinz Kerry and vaguely French.
But we saw what happened with GWB and we came to a pretty solid realization: a vote for someone who doesn't represent what we believe is a vote against what we believe. And that doesn't help anyone.
The NY-23 contest is useful in the sense that it helps to test that theory in a small area before things get out of hand and we have to fight this out on a national scale. Will conservatives across the country step up and support a grassroots conservative against a GOP pick who is as undesirable as her campaign is inept? Maybe.
Will the campaign be successful? Who knows?
Will their defiance send a message to the GOP that future success is dependent on deeper screening and more rigourous ideological demands on candidates for public office running on the Republican ticket? Definitely.
Support is coming from recently-famous Republican celebrities across the country. Its allowing Sarah Palin to test her influence over the Republican base, quantifying the reach of conservative talking heads like Glenn Beck, and dragging out Election 2008 mainstays with the promise of a new shot at the prize in 2012.
How has the GOP responded? Some, like perennial GOP favorite Mike Huckabee, are choosing to sit this one out until they figure out what's in store -- whether this support and fervor is a flash in the pan or the future of campaigns. Others have responded by throwing more money and support behind Scozzafava and as the LA Times piece notes, Scozzafava's camp responded by possibly calling the Republican base a bunch of NASCAR watching rednecks from the backwoods of Georgia, which, of course, is an awesome fundraising strategy.
The future is looking...strange.
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