Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Win Two, Lose One - A Recipe For Big Tent Republicanism

With both Virginia’s and New Jersey’s governor races won by Republican candidates and the loss by the Conservative candidate, Hoffman, in NY-23 Congressional district, the results of yesterday’s elections have interesting implications for the Republican Party. In short, these results have reflect a distaste with the Democrats’ agenda, coupled with a call for greater Republican cohesiveness.  This bodes well for the moderate Republican movement.

The Republican win of both governorships is a clear indictment of Obama’s policies and Congress’s rule. Both states went to Obama last year. Of the two, New Jersey has historically been ‘bluer’. Virginia on the other hand has swung more widely. It is thus less surprising that Virginia elected a Republican governor. What is surprising is the magnitude of Republican Robert McDonnell’s win. McDonnell won Virginia with an astounding 59% of votes, a massive swing from the percentage of Virginia voters that supported Obama last year.

However, the Republican triumph in the historically staunch blue state of New Jersey is the more significant of the two. New Jersey has long been considered a Democratic stronghold. They fact that the state could go red only a year after Obama’s election supposedly stamped a new mandate on America, reflects a strong repudiation of the past year’s policies. Both Virginia’s and New Jersey’s results signify America’s distaste with the overreach of government and the inability of the administration to solve the most pressing issues.

So what is one to make of the loss of Congressional district NY-23, a long-time Republican district? Democratic pundits will most certainly claim it counters any message sent by the governor races. However, the story more directly reflects the internal problems within the Republican Party than national politics.

The muddled race began with liberal Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, running against former Independent-cum-Democrat Bill Owens. A rebellion by Republicans prompted Conservative Party candidate Hoffman to jump into the fray at the last minute. Scozzafava was immediately overshadowed and dropped out of the race; ironically throwing her weight behind Owens. The result of theRepublican infighting split the Republican vote. Furthermore, Hoffman’s candidacy never had the time needed to fully get off the ground. Voters were undoubtedly unclear about where he stood. Ultimately, this handed the race to a Democrat for the first time since the Civil War.

Yesterday’s elections send a clear message to the activist wing of the Republican Party. The branch of the party that wants to see a smaller, more ‘ideologically pure’ party has been dealt a heavy blow. The failure in NY-23 is clearly an issue of party infighting. Hoffman or Scozzafava most likely would have won if they were the sole right-wing candidate; however, by taking the fight outside of the Republican Party all conservatives lost.

This election is a resounding success for the Big Tent Republicans. Republicans have won where they have appealed to all and have lost where they have become narrow and isolated. This will become increasingly important as conservative Republicans aim to challenge moderate Republican candidates, such as Charlie Crist, next year. The challenges are welcomed, but should stay within the party. Republican candidates should be selected that can appeal to their electorates. As the wins in New Jersey and Virginia show, America has soured to the liberal excesses in Washington. Republicans can win by being true to their principles and reaching out to independents and Democrats. But they cannot win by being exclusionary and fighting amongst each other.


  1. I feel that Virginia was the more significant win for the GOP, but neither gubernatorial race was nationally significant. NY-23 was a strategic defeat, literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but I do not see a relenting from conservative activism. Sensible right wing thought is difficult to find these days, and some might say the inmates have not only taken over the asylum, they have covered it in Sarah Palin 2012 posters.

  2. RayRay~

    Thanks for the comment. It seems your assessment is pretty much opposite from mine. Why do you think Virginia was more signficant? Obama gave up on Virginia a while ago, while rallying for Corzine up until the deadline. NJ has always been more solidly blue. I also think they were nationally signficant. Some 24% of Virginians said they voted Republican to express disapproval with national policies.

    As for your last point, though I do agree. I think 'conservative activism' will not relent. I do not necessarily have a problem with activism. Your key word 'sensible' though is key. I don't think the Republican Party handled NY-23 in any sensible way. Conservative activism is helpful. it'll help to foment debate within the Republican Party and develop new ideas - which we are in sore need of. However, I think it is best to keep the fight within the family rather than splitting up. I hope I can contribute something to sensible in my little world.


  3. Josh--

    Glad to see your recognition of the main logic at work here: that Hoffman's candidacy, and the unbelievable backing of GOP luminaries like Steele, Palin and Beck, is poisonous for the party. McDonnell and Christie essentially ran on a throw-the-bums-out platform, and successfully rebuffed the populist Palinites from subverting their positions.

    RayRay is correct in that neither gubernatorial race has serious national implications. History tells us that, overwhelmingly, parties who are not in power do well on off-year elections, and Christie, who doesn't have actual political positions, merely won because of Corzine's sub-zero approval ratings and N.J.'s awful fiscal situation. Virginia, meanwhile, is still basically a red state, and did not benefit from the outpouring of black voters that propelled Obama to victory there in 2008.

    But what we saw in NY-23 is where the real story is. Will the GOP continue to assault so-called RINOs in the primaries — purging the party of regional appeal? Or will they opt for the big-tent approach of which you clamor, the cornerstone of any successful national realignment? As I recently posted, the Republicans seem to prefer the former, so long as they massage the populist rage explicitly displayed by the tea-party crowd and the shrill likes of Palin, Bachmann, Beck and Limbaugh.


  4. Josh: in response to your question re: New Jersey and Virginia: Virginia is of greater importance in that it was one of the new coalition of red/purple states Obama took in 2008. If the [weak] Democratic candidate had taken the seat, the GOP would have been back on its heels. Jersey, on the other hand, is a reliably Democratic state when it comes to national politics, but occasionally they elect a moderate Republican for governor. That's the basis of my opinions.

    While I lean to the left, I want a reliable counterbalance. The populist rage fomented this summer by Beck, Limbaugh, etc., has been counterproductive. This brand of activism is hateful, strident, and often uninformed [See: Death Panels]. No one but demagogues, much less demagogues who have no intention of taking the risk of running for office, benefit from this.

    I could be one of those so-called RINO's but the GOP's social conservative agenda drives me away. A Republican like Dede Scozzafava, on the other hand, is someone I could vote for. Unfortunately, they are being run off the reservation.

  5. RayRay - I agree with your criticisms of the 'populist rage' fomented by the talking heads. I don't think they're overly productive. In general I am not a fan of populism and anti-intellectualism (which is often the method of these pundits). While I often agree with some of their policy prescriptions their methods are often counter-productive. They drive people away and end up only speaking to the proverbial choir.

    This is why I think the GOP needs to have these internal intellectual debates. I think the discourse is good. One benefit of 'being in the wilderness' is that it will force the Republicans to rethink their positions.

    Karl - to respond to your comment. In general I don’t think past experience will dictate future performance so it is almost difficult to rely on statistics to predict the future. I think the national significance of the gubernatorial elections is more significant in terms of the information it produces rather than a prediction of next year’s electoral results.

    In essence I think it shows how Obama's win last year was not a radical change in America's electoral makeup; but a blip on the timeline. Obama's win was not a new era but an anomaly. This election confirms this fact as the record numbers of youth and minorities did not show up to the polls. Obama won in 2008 due to two things (1) the historic fact of the first black president and (2) his anti-Bush charisma. The fact that his overwhelming popularity after he was elected was quickly diminished by the leftish (ill-conceived?) policies, speaks to the fact that there has not been radical change on the national level. NJ and VA confirm this.


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