Post-NY23, What's The Strategy? Try Scorched Earth

(Jim Lewis/NPS.gov)
A lot has been made of the potential for a breach within the Republican Party between the mandarins who steer national policy and an increasingly impatient group of conservative activists. At this point, that may more reflect wishful thinking among Democrats. The folks who identify with the likes of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement are drawing very different conclusions from the results in New York's Congressional 23rd district.

Yes, their candidate lost the battle to the Democrats but the grassroots activists around the country who supported Bill Hoffman's candidacy remain convinced they're on the right side of history. And in writing down their morning-after election analyses on Wednesday, they also delivered a hard-edged message to the Republican establishment: Get behind us or get out of the way.

Erick Erickson of RedState.com, one of the blog sites that strongly supported Hoffman's candidacy, put it bluntly: The conservatives still won. How? By defeating the phony Republican (Dede Scozzafava) who was originally chosen by the party. Erickson's declaration deserves being quoted at length:

"First, the GOP now must recognize it will either lose without conservatives or will win with conservatives. In 2008, many conservatives sat home instead of voting for John McCain. Now, in NY-23, conservatives rallied and destroyed the Republican candidate the establishment chose.

"I have said all along that the goal of activists must be to defeat Scozzafava. Doug Hoffman winning would just be gravy. A Hoffman win is not in the cards, but we did exactly what we set out to do — crush the establishment backed GOP candidate.

"And make no mistake, despite the Beltway spin, we know for certain based on statements from the local Republican parties, that they chose Scozzafava based on advice from the Washington crowd.

"So we have demonstrated to the GOP that it must not take conservatives for granted. The GOP spent $900,000.00 on a Republican who dropped out and endorsed the Democrat. Were we to combine Scozzafava and Hoffman's votes, Hoffman would have won.

"Secondly, and just as importantly, there has all of a sudden been a huge movement among some activists to go the third party route. We see in NY-23 that this is not possible as third parties are not viable.

"Third parties lack funding and ability for a host of reasons. Conservatives are going to have to work from within the GOP. The GOP had better pay attention.

"For all intents and purposes, NY-23 is a trial run for Florida. And in Florida, the conservative candidate is operating inside the GOP. If John Cornyn and the NRSC do not want to see Florida go the way of NY-23, they better stand down."

That's quite a mouthful. But that was nothing compared to the fury which still consumes Michelle Malkin.

"Hoffman's candidacy illuminated the stark difference between GOP political opportunists willing to pimp out their endorsements to any old ACORN-embracing, Working Families Party-consorting, Big Labor crony who puts an "R" by her name — and movement conservatives who refuse to "mooooderate" for the politically expedient sake of mooooderation as dictated by out-of-touch Beltway party leaders. The NRCC/RNC's $1 million debacle will cost much more than that."

What Erickson, Malkin and their ideological fellow travelers are really pushing for is a scorched earth policy. Dump anyone who believes in carving out a middle ground to "expand the base" and purify a party that they view as too often resembling a carbon copy of the Democrats.

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele promptly rejected that advice, suggesting today that it's a mistake to think a smaller, more ideologically correct cadre constitutes a victory. "I don't see a victory in losing seats," Steele said during a press conference. "I'm in the business of multiplication and addition. I want more Republicans. I don't buy that we somehow find victory in defeat."

CBSNews.com Election Coverage:

Results
All Election Night 2009 Results
Republicans Sweep N.J., Va. Gov. Races
N.Y. Democrat Owens Wins House Seat
Maine Voters Reject Gay Marriage
Breckenridge, Colo., Votes to Legalize Pot
Atlanta's Race For Mayor Heads To Runoff

David Weigel, whose excellent work in the Washington Independent is a must-read for anyone following this story, was at Hoffman headquarters as the results came in, writes that as the electorate's verdict became clear, the Hoffman backers shifted their spin from this being a referendum on President Obama to an earlier message heard in some quarters. It was not about showing Republicans that conservatives could win but that Republicans would not win without the help of conservatives

He closed with an Orwellian quote from one of the locals who hung around until the end.

"People are fed up," said Saranac Lake activist Russ Finley. "The Tea Party people are serious. The 9/12 people are serious. I'd hate to say that a loss is a good thing, but this is a good thing."

I understand his frustration but losing is winning?
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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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