The special election in NY’s 23rd Congressional District should have been a walk for Republicans–that part of NY has been represented by the GOP for more than a century and its most recent Republican Congressman, John McHugh, never won less than 63%.
This was a strongly Republican seat–the election was conservatives’ to lose.
And lose they did.
The NY GOP, knowing a thing or two about their own Congressional districts, chose State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava as their candidate. Scozzafava is a moderate who doesn’t always toe the right-wing line, but is still quite conservative, even by NY standards.
Unsurprisingly, Scozzafava took a strong early lead in the polls. Everything looked cut-and-dried—a Republican Congressman retires from representing a Republican district and is replaced with another Republican.
Then along came the conservatives, who declared that Scozzafava was insufficiently conservative for them and decided to push her out of the race by throwing their support behind Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.
Even though Hoffman never held prior elected office and knew extraordinarily little about the district he wanted to represent, conservatives decided to make him their guinea pig. They wanted to find out if they could replace a moderate republican with an extreme right-winger and still win, thus setting the stage for a nation-wide ideological purge of the Republican Party.
The right pushed Scozzafava out of the race, eventually turning it into a two-way contest between Hoffman and Democrat Owens. And when the dust settled and the polls closed, Owens won 49% to 45%. Had conservatives simply stayed out of the race, Scozzafava would have easily won and the GOP would have kept the seat.
Of course, undaunted by reality, conservatives are spinning furiously to declare victory. You have to have a pretty warped perception to claim that losing an election you could have easily won is some kind of victory. Even if you could somehow construe this as an ideological victory, it’s certainly a Pyrrhic victory—in the end, the GOP still lost a solid Republican seat to the Democrats. In the end, the GOP wound up one more seat farther away from the majority, farther away from Speaker Boehner and a modicum of legislative power.
Conservatives are calling this a victory because, in their words, it proves that the GOP needs conservatives. But if that’s true, then don’t conservatives also need the GOP? And, in fact, didn’t both conservatives and the GOP together—who both ended up backing Doug Hoffman—just lose last night? So both sides need one another, but even when they work together they still lose? What kind of victory message is that?