Among conservatives, there persists a wisdom that the solution for their electoral woes lies to the right, not the left. Clearer, cogently articulated partisanship is the solution, not moderation.
That may yet work in Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional district, where right-wing activists traded a winning moderate for a winning extreme right-winger, but we must stress that that’s all they did. If Democratic candidate Bill Owens loses on Tuesday, it will be because he was always at a disadvantage, not because switching from a moderate Republican to an extremist somehow re-energized the base. Simply put, if militant right-winger Doug Hoffman wins on Tuesday, it will only prove that, in majority Republican districts, the party base will tolerate extremists. But that’s neither encouraging, nor capable of generalization to a nation that, on the whole, remains far to the left of people like Hoffman and Glenn Beck, his muse.
Should worst come to worst, and Doug Hoffman be the first Tea Party “Patriot” Congressman, it will not alter the fundamental reality that the Republicans need to embrace moderation before they can start winning again. As recent history illustrates, no American political party has ever found its way out of the wilderness by becoming more extreme. Reagan was more temperate and comforting than Goldwater; Clinton leveraged his Southern identity to supplement his moderate credentials; Obama avoids culture war issues or redefines them to his advantage; and, in England, Tony Blair jettisoned Labour’s socialist elements. But it just might convince the Republicans to move right for 2010, and surrender a few seats that could otherwise be theirs.