Conservatives v. Republicans in New York 23 Race

Why win when you can lose on principle?

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Earth to the conservative movement: Don't use a defeated conservative to argue the winning value of conservatism at the ballot box.

I have been watching with great interest and some glee the Republican civil war being fought in and around the Adirondack Mountains in next week's special election to succeed Rep. John McHugh, who is now the secretary of the Army. It's the only U.S. House election that will be held next week, but rather than being a referendum on President Obama, it's become an illustration of the battle for the soul of the GOP. Conservatives—including very high profile pols like Sarah Palin—don't like the Republican nominee (who is, as GOPers go, rather liberal) and have lined up behind an independent candidate. I argued in my column in our digital edition last week that the GOP can't achieve majority status if they can't get on the same page in what should be a winnable district. Today's New York Times has a passage that perfectly sums up the GOP's problem:

Many of the workers acknowledge that their efforts could deliver the election to the Democratic candidate, but they say it is more important to send a message than to win this race.

“This is the shot that needs to be fired to Republican leaders to wake them up,” said former Representative Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, who was one of the most outspoken conservatives in Congress until her defeat last year.

Right wingers argue, mind you, that the Republicans' problem is insufficient fidelity to conservatism, presumably the kind of conservatism about which Musgrave was so outspoken for three terms in the House. If only the GOP would only run more Musgraves, the thinking goes, the country would reward them with congressional majorities and the White House. But because the Republicans were too liberal, the voters punished them with Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

But here's a critical flaw in that logic: Marilyn Musgrave lost. She lost badly. Double digits badly. And she didn't lose because she was too liberal. I very much doubt many voters in Colorado's 4th Congressional District went to the polls and thought, I wish the Republican Party was more conservative, like Marilyn Musgrave. But since they're not, I'm going to vote against her just to prove a point.

You can see where conservatives might think that, though, because it's the kind of logic they use when arguing that it's more important to defeat the Republican in New York's special election than it is to defeat the Democrat. As Newt Gingrich, one of the few high profile Republicans not currently in office who has backed the GOP nominee, told NRO, "If you seek to be a perfect minority, you'll remain a minority."