If you want to understand why the Republican Party has been having difficulty in recent years convincing the American people that it stands for something, take a look at how Empire State Republicans have picked their candidates for two successive special elections.
Earlier this year, Republican leaders* in the state’s 20th congressional district tapped Assembly Republican Minority Leader Joe Tedisco to fill the seat of Kristen Gillibrand when Governor David Paterson picked her to replace Hillary Clinton in the United States Senate. That political insider waited until about two weeks before the March 31 election to come out against the spendthrift “stimulus.” His refusal to say how he would have voted on the biggest legislative initiative of that time period cost him the support of many Republicans (as well as fiscally conservative independents) and dampened the enthusiasm of others.
After initially leading in the polls, he lost by a whisker to Democrat Scott Murphy.
Party leaders in the adjacent 23rd District don’t seem to have learned much from this spring’s results when they picked a candidate to fill the seat of Rep. John McHugh, recently sworn in as President Obama’s Secretary of the Army. Instead of tapping a fiscal conservative, they tapped another squishy Republican insider, state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava “easily,” according to the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund, “the most liberal member of the GOP caucus in the state legislature, scoring a 15% rating on the Conservative Party’s scorecard.” Apparently, party leaders thought support for “abortion-rights” could help her “appeal to independents.” Well the latest poll has her “running third among independents.”
And the one who leads among voters unaffiliated with either party is Doug Hoffman running the Conservative Party ticket after party leaders tapped the more liberal Scozzafava (instead of him) as the party’s nominee.
Party elders must have thought that her social liberalism would help her with swing voters, but, as Michelle Malkin notes:
Scozzafava is an abortion rights advocate who favors gay marriage. It would be one thing if Scozzafava balanced that social liberalism with fiscal conservatism. But as a state assemblywoman, she voted for massive tax increases, Democratic budgets and a $180 million state bank bailout. She also supported the trillion-dollar federal stimulus package — which every House Republican voted against.
No wonder Tea Party activists are upset.
It’s one thing (and an essential one, in my view) for Republicans to downplay (or downright avoid) social issues, it’s quite another to ditch fiscal conservatism. It’s the failure to hold true to the small government principles of Ronald Reagan and the Contract with America that cost the GOP majority. And it’s state parties, like those in New York, whose blindness to the lessons of 2006 and 2008, seem certain to prevent the party from regaining it any time in the near future.
*In New York party leaders pick the candidates for special elections.