The subject of party loyalty was brought up before this election with respect to the upcoming special election in New York's 23 district. Sarah Palin, favoring ideology over party, came out in support of the Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman over the 'RINO' Dede Scozzafava on her facebook page. She was not alone. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), Dick Armey and Fred Thompson had also broken with the Republican party to endorse Hoffman. In response to what appeared to some as party treason, Newt Gingrich offered a substantively weak argument in favor of supporting the party candidate no matter what.
“I just think it is a mistake for the conservative movement to think splitting in the special election is a smart idea,” Gingrich said. “If we give that seat to the Democrats, shame on us.”This is the same old 'if we split the center right vote, the left wins' argument. Problem is, this attitude does not serve the conservative movement in all cases, and it certainly did not in this case. Scozzafava is not a conservative (she even endorsed the Democrat over the Conservative after she dropped out of the race), she should never have been chosen as the Republican candidate, and if she could have won the election, she would have done nothing to advance the conservative movement. Opposing her did more to advance conservatism in the Republican party than supporting her ever had any chance of doing. The polls prior to the election, as well as the actual election results bear this out. New York 23 is a Republican district in which Scozzafava, the Republican, was getting killed in the polls precisely because she was anything but a conservative. The final election results show that Hoffman, the third party candidate, lost the election by only 5 percentage points.
The lesson that the national Republican party should learn from New York 23 is that political ideology is more important that party 'brand' loyalty. The Republican party even ran ads against Hoffman, and dispite them, Hoffman still continued to climb in the polls. Hoffman may have lost the election, but he did much better than a third party candidate would have done under normal circumstances. If the GOP county chair in NY had actually chosen a conservative candidate instead of Scozzafava, who by the way, even received the unsolicited endorsement of the founder of the DailyKos, Democrat Bill Owens would have been conceding defeat last night. The fact of the matter is that it was Scozzafava, not Hoffman, who was the spoiler in New York 23.
The message to the GOP is reinforced by the election results in my own state of Virginia. Bob McDonnell ran a Reaganesque campaign. He ran as conservative. He ran on the conservative issues of primary concern to the voters. He ran a positive campaign. If you look at the election results map, it is easy to see how successful his campaign was. State wide, McDonnell won 59% of the vote, and in many counties, he got as much as 70% of the votes cast. Rather than spend time and effort on spinning the election results as a referendum against the Obama presidency, the GOP needs to understand it as a referendum in favor of conservative principles.
More Americans are conservative than moderate, or liberal, with 40% identifying themselves as conservatives, 36% as moderates, and 20% as liberals. The likely voters who self identify as Republicans is approximately 1/3 of the electorate, the same is true of those who self identify as Democrats. This leaves approximately 40% of the electorate who are independents. Winning elections have always been about attracting the votes of those independents. The Republican party needs to finally get the message that the way to attract a winning majority of the voters in the middle is by remaining loyal to conservative principles before, during, and after the election. If Republicans do this, party 'brand' loyalty will never be an issue.