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The GOP’s civil war

In New York special elections, party bosses select their nominee, and the GOP chose popular Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who seemed a near-lock to hold the seat vacated by now-Secretary of the Army John McHugh. But Scozzafava failed the teabagger purity test by supporting abortion rights and gay marriage, and thus became the target of right-wing Doug Hoffman on the Conservative Party ballot line. A few national Republicans like Newt Gingrich and former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis endorsed Scozzafava, arguing that a nationally viable GOP had to be open to moderates. Yet they were outnumbered by prominent Republicans jumping on the Hoffman bandwagon — including, quite tellingly, 2012 presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty.

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After a series of missteps over the last two weeks led to third-place poll results, Scozzafava dropped out over the weekend and endorsed the Democrat, Bill Owens.

Typical of the ensuing vitriol from “betrayed” Republicans (most of whom had already abandoned her for Hoffman) was this statement from the head of the conservative Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser: “By her actions today Dede Scozzafava has confirmed why it was so important for conservatives and people who care about the GOP to get involved in this race. When a GOP candidacy is not based on fundamental conservative values, the party and the principles are inevitably betrayed at critical moments.”

For Dannenfelser and allies like Palin, this contest was never about the residents of northern New York, but about the conservative movement itself. Why else would they rally around a carpetbagger ignorant of the district’s concerns? The Watertown Daily Times criticized a “flustered and ill-at-ease Mr. Hoffman” for his ignorance of important regional issues. Texas and D.C.-based lobbyist Dick Armey, serving as Hoffman’s chaperone, brushed aside the newspaper’s focus on area needs as “parochial.”

With Scozzafava’s de facto ouster from the GOP, moderate Republicans are now included in the movement conservatives’ enemies list, which already includes African-Americans, gays, immigrants, Latinos, single women, urbanites, non-Christians, Northeasterners, Hollywood, San Francisco, Chicago and Massachusetts.

Forget a “big tent”; a pup tent would likely be too spacious for what’s left of the so-called Republican “coalition.”

Ultimately, whether Hoffman wins or loses is irrelevant — Democrats don’t need the extra seat, and it’ll likely be eliminated in post-census redistricting anyway. The tarring and feathering of Scozzafava is far more significant — emboldened conservative activists have their first trophy victory in their jihad against the Republican establishment, and are hungry to beat non-ideologue Republicans across the country. Senate candidates Mark Kirk in Illinois and Rob Simmons in Connecticut may be electable statewide because of their moderate history, but that’s irrelevant to activists who’d rather purge than win elections. So Kirk is running from his record, while Simmons is pathetically carrying a teabag around to curry favor with conservatives. It remains to be seen if such empty gestures will mollify angry teabaggers.

“If we don’t get some adult supervision, basically the party could explode and split itself up,” said Davis, perhaps the smartest Republican electoral strategist of the decade. Too late — his party has been co-opted by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and a motley crew of rigid political fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists far less interested in winning elections than in ensuring ideological purity.


Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos.