If there had remained any doubt that Dede Scozzafava was the wrong candidate for Republicans in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, her decision to endorse Democrat Bill Owens after leaving the race closes the book on that question.
Ms. Scozzafava, the liberal nominee forced on voters by New York’s feckless GOP establishment, was not much of a Republican, in theory or in practice. She hesitated even to affirm that she would remain in the party post-election. Her sympathies — pro-choice, pro-homosexual marriage, weak on taxes, sticking by the Teamsters and the SEIU on the “card check” program, which would deprive workers of a secret ballot in union-organizing votes — found her to the left of many Democrats and most Republicans. It was no surprise, then, that she enjoyed the support of such hard-Left elements as ACORN, the government-employee unions, and Daily Kos honcho Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga. Conservatives were right to oppose her.
Ms. Scozzafava was driven out of the race by the insurgent candidacy of Conservative party nominee Doug Hoffman, an up-and-down-the-line conservative with a particular interest in what might be called the “Tea Party” issues; that is to say, his program is one of opposition to out-of-control government spending and the metastatic corporate-bailout culture. It’s a platform with growing resonance. Mr. Hoffman enjoys the support of such conservative stalwarts as Dick Armey and the Club for Growth — and now is receiving the endorsements of Republican party elements in New York, the Jefferson County Republican party among them.
So the Tea Party movement has taken its first Republican scalp, but it would be easy to make too much of this development. The unique circumstance of a special election allowed Republican county chairmen, not Republican primary voters, to choose the candidate. That’s not going to be the case in congressional districts around the country next year. Nor will many Republican candidates be as awful as Scozzafava, the choice of New York’s decrepit GOP establishment. Yes, candidates should reflect their districts — Buffalo, N.Y., is not Ames, Iowa, is not Orange County, Calif. — but the line obviously should be drawn well short of positively liberal candidates like Scozzafava. We suspect all those liberal pundits gleefully predicting a self-defeating GOP “civil war” will be sorely disappointed next year.
Still, John Boehner is right to sense that there is a rumbling in the body politic, one that is in many ways more populist than conservative and one that does not necessarily see its interests embodied in the Republican party: “We are in the middle, I think, of a political rebellion going on in America, and this rebellion is by people who really have not been actively involved in the political process,” Mr. Boehner told CNN. “And they don’t really care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. . . . It’s going to be a difficult road to walk with these relatively new entrants into the political system and work with them to show them that, by and large, we are the party that represents their interests.”
We take his point, but, actually, it shouldn’t be that difficult. The growing revolt against Washington is an enormous opportunity for the GOP. Republicans must continue to resist Obama’s statist gigantism, and align themselves with the rising common sense that says we can’t spend our way to prosperity and treat ourselves to (supposed) free lunch after free lunch. And, in their positive program, they should take a cue from figures such as Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who have shown that a fundamentally conservative program can appeal to non-ideological voters when it is focused on tangible quality-of-life issues and presented with good cheer.
The Right should be encouraged by the fact that Mr. Hoffman’s campaign produced an easy partnership between the Tea Party populists and the Club for Growth, which is very much a traditionally conservative organization both in its philosophy and in its associations. This represents a political opening, and the Republican establishment would do well to jump on it. Mr. Hoffman has shown that he deserves the support of the Republican party, and now the Republican party should show that it deserves the support of those who found a voice for their concerns in Mr. Hoffman’s campaign.