Looks like Newt Gingrich was right all along. Democrats have won New York’s 23rd Congressional District for the first time in over 100 years, thanks to interference from Sarah Palin and other conservatives who incorrectly believed that a far-right candidate could win. Now the question is, Where does the Republican Party go from here?
Short-term fallout of Doug Hoffman’s loss
Democrat Bill Owens scored a surprising victory in New York’s 23rd Congressional district last night, beating the favorite, Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who had earned the endorsement of Palin, Tim Pawlenty, and several other notable Republicans.
Newt Gingrich warned of this exact scenario weeks ago, when he endorsed the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava. Instead of taking Gingrich’s advice, the far-right worked to support Hoffman instead.
It says a lot about the current state of the Republican Party that not only was Gingrich’s wisdom disregarded, but he was actually attacked by some of the far-right crowd for supposedly abandoning his principles. If Newt Gingrich is now considered a liberal Republican, that speaks to just how far off the tracks the party has veered.
Let’s be honest: Doug Hoffman was an absolutely terrible candidate. He admitted he knew next to nothing about the district he was pledging to represent. The day before the election, he pledged his support and loyalty to the likes of Glenn Beck. And most shockingly, he didn’t even live in the district! Ultimately, Hoffman proved to be too much of an extremist for even this heavily conservative district, and they voted for Owens instead. Will conservatives take the right lessons from this defeat?
The battle for the future of the Republican Party
After getting trounced in the 2008 elections, the obvious move for the Republican Party would have been to move to the center of the political spectrum and try to woo independents, which is exactly the strategy Democrats employed to win back the Senate and House in 2006. In fact, Republicans tried to do just that by nominating the moderate Scozzafava, but the far-right hijacked the race by getting behind Hoffman instead.
If conservatives are smart, they’ll stop supporting fringe candidates who only appeal to a small slice of the electorate, and instead move toward more moderate, centrist candidates.
While making the rounds on the cable news shows, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani suggested that Republicans de-emphasize social issues, because that drives away young voters and minorities, and instead focus on the economy and national defense. Even ultra-conservative MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan expressed a similar view yesterday. Many prominent right-wingers agree that Republicans desperately need to expand their base in the future.
Who could argue with that logic?
The future of the Republican Party after Doug Hoffman’s loss
If, despite Hoffman’s loss, the Republican Party continues drifting further to the right in the future, the GOP will have little chance of retaking the House or Senate in 2010 or 2012. Far-right candidates may be able to win in certain areas of the U.S., but nominating fringe candidates across the country is a sure recipe for disaster.
Liberals are privately hoping that Republicans will do just that. In fact, no one’s rooting harder for the success of the Tea Party conservatives than liberals, because liberals believe that far-right candidates simply will not win most elections. Hoffman’s surprising defeat proves they may be right.
The consensus seems to be that if Republicans want to rebound, they need to re-establish Ronald Reagan’s big tent and stop driving moderates away. One thing is for sure: Watching this play out over the next year will be fascinating.