The Perfect Outcome?

by Reihan Salam

At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, I wonder if last night’s result might represent the perfect outcome for conservative reformers who want to revive the Republican Party.

Doug Hoffman’s defeat comes as a serious blow to the activists who fought against Scozzafava, a candidate well to the left of Arlen Specter. I was particularly impressed by the words of Scozzafava’s husband, Ron McDougall.

“This has been a difficult day for my family. But the needs and concerns of the men and women of the 23rd Congressional District remain paramount,” McDougall said. “As such, I wholeheartedly and without reservation endorse the candidacy of Bill Owens.”

“As a life-long labor activist, I know that Bill Owens understands the issues important to working people. On the other hand, Doug Hoffman has little regard for the interests of workers.”

“Hoffman’s opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, coupled with his support for the failed policies of the Bush Administration make him a poor choice to serve the citizens of the 23rd Congressional District.”

I have to assume that when McDougall is referring to the failed policies of the Bush Administration, he’s not referring to the lack of spending restraint or the failure to adopt an effective counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq before 2006. Rather, McDougall’s believes that congressional Republicans would be best served by embracing the agenda of the hard labor left. This is an interesting view. While Scozzafava shouldn’t be held accountable for the views of her husband, one gets the impression that McDougall and Scozzafava are broadly in agreement.

Which makes the insistence on the part of E.J. Dionne and Frank Rich and other left-of-center observers that conservative critics of Scozzafava were attempting to purge a Republican moderate from the party seem more than a little peculiar. You’d almost think that the most politically useful narrative, rather than the most accurate narrative, was being advanced. But that’s not fair. In truth, Dionne and Rich and others believe that U.S. political discourse would be best served if conservatives embraced Scozzafava’s views, thus giving Democrats the freedom to move further to the left. This is an interesting view.

Hoffman, however, was not a flawless candidate. His lack of interest in key issues facing the 23rd congressional district was a serious liability, and the 2010 Republican nominee, whether it is Hoffman or Matthew Doheny or someone else, will have to have a stronger command of these issues. Had Hoffman won, it might have led to overconfidence and a raft of primary challengers who’d burn money conservatives could use more effectively elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the candidate who was most strikingly successful, Bob McDonnell, was a staunch conservative who focused on creating the right conditions for job growth. That sounds about right to me.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.