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The fate of the Yankee Republicans

People such as myself whose political views are moderate or liberal on issues of social and personal freedom while seeing the merits of capitalism see the large voice unions have within the Democratic Party and the considerable left-wing support there and like to imagine that there are still some chance that the more liberal forces within the Republican Party that would bring it back to its old ways of being very much the party of freedom, which Michael Steele likes to pretend it still is. I might hope that the lack of a lasting success after President George W. Bush’s presidency could convince them against such a focus on social conservatism. Ultimately, I’d like to imagine them to be a party where Arnold Vinick could be a leading figure and a possible presidential candidate.

The campaign for the special election to New York’s 23rd Congressional District, scheduled after Republican John McHugh resigned to become Secretary of the Navy is another blow to this illusion. The local Republican Party chose State Assembly member Dierdre Scozzafava, who favours marriage equality and the right to abortion, while the Democrats chose Bill Owens, who believes that New York’s current law on civil unions for gay couples are adequate. This is one issue where it would have been beneficial to have a Republican on-side, both as an influence within the Republicans, and so to put pressure on the Democrats who would feel less that they could rely on gay voters.

The the Conservative Party of New York, normally a minor player in New York politics, nominated Doug Hoffman. Hoffman had sought the nomination for the Republicans, but had trailed at all of the nominating party meetings. He received the support of the Club for Growth, the same pressure group that forced Sen. Arlen Specter out of the Pennsylvanian Republican Party earlier this year, leading to the Democrats reaching their 60-seat supermajority in the Senate.

Hoffman also received the support of many leading Republican politicians, including Sarah Palin, current governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty and former candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination former Sen. Fred Thompson, and the most partisan of media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

As polls showed that this formerly safe GOP seat would be lost to either the Democrats or the Conservatives, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Clinton’s chief political sparring partner (and on whom Jeff Haffley is loosely based), appealed for party unity, endorsing Scozzafava as the official Republican candidate, calling for a respect for the claimed tradition of local independence.

This was ultimately to no avail, as tonight Dede Scozzafava announced the suspension of her campaign. If Doug Hoffman is elected, he will be taken in by the Republican House Caucus.

If this tells us anything about the grassroots within the Republican Party and who their current leaders are willing to support in future, which it might not, President Obama should have little trouble when the time comes for his reelection campaign. Considering his approval rate in the current economic circumstances, despite the justified criticism of his leadership at times, he appears to be still convincing the public that he is doing what seems best. Those remaining within the Republican Party seem committed to ideological purity and compliance a wholesale endorsement of their party platform by party candidates wherever possible.

It’s difficult to see where this will lead them, how many presidential cycles will it take for them to nominate a candidate with a wider appeal than this. And how long will they hold the remaining moderates such as Sen. Olympia Snowe, who would be very unlikely to leave, but has publicly expressed her disappointment that the party has failed to recognize the mistakes of recent years and risks becoming very much a minority party.

For my part, had I a vote in NY-23, I would go ahead and waste my vote and cast it for Scozzafava.

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