Monday, November 2, 2009

Sending a message... to whom?

Jon Bernstein offers a somewhat different take on the Scozzofava-ing of NY's 23rd CD than I did. I had argued that a win is a win, and that if conservatives managed to drive the moderate Republican out of the race and still get a conservative elected, that's a real boost for them. Jon counters that such a win would send a message to moderates candidates that they're not welcome in the GOP, making it harder for the party to be competitive in moderate states and districts in coming elections.

Both stories may be true here. I guess I'm thinking of this in terms of the current Republican identity crisis. (No, I'm not going to call it a civil war, as I'm getting tired of military metaphors in politics.) Republican elites across the country are arguing with each other over the future direction for the party. Some folks (I'd put the GOP county chairs in the 23rd CD in this group) firmly believe in ideological positioning. They figure out where voters are and pick candidates accordingly, adjusting as events necessitate. If the voters move left, then so must they. Others (including Palin, Bachmann, and Limbaugh) want the party to stand for something consistent and believe they can win elections this way, or at least that some elections aren't worth winning if they have to compromise their beliefs to win them. There are other party elites who are still trying to figure out which of those courses is the right one.

For the Palin-Bachmann-Limbaugh group to assert its control over the party, it has to show that its kind of people can win in moderates districts. That's why NY's 23rd CD is such a great proving ground for them. If Hoffman wins, the unaffiliated Republican elites may look to the Palin gang and figure they know the score.


Jonathan Bernstein said...

I think your story (the classic "purists" vs. "professionals" battle) is one of the stories going on, but not the only one. For example, there's also a national vs. local story. And then, also, I don't think it's safe to assume that Rush, Beck et al. are motivated by their beliefs as conservatives, and not their commercial incentives. One more thing: to the extent that party leaders are caught inside the feedback loop of their own communications paths, they may be finding it difficult to have the information needed to make good judgments.

Seth Masket said...

All true. And yes, these folks are caught in a feedback loop. The nice thing about today's election is that it will provide actual empirical data for them. Of course, even if Hoffman wins, there may be all sorts of reasons that this model doesn't export to other districts in other years. But everything else until this point has been conjecture and posturing, so a data point would be nice.

Jonathan Bernstein said...

I don't know; my strong assumption will be that pretty much everyone will read the data the way they want to. I'm pretty skeptical that there are more than a handful of GOPers who are disinterested types looking for evidence of which course is actually better for the party.

I do think that there were important signals in NY-23, but those are the ones already sent.