Dede Scozzafava’s announcement that she would suspend her campaign is a huge victory for Doug Hoffman, third parties, and the conservative grassroots. Whether it will be a true victory for the Republican Party is less certain. Like rats fleeing a sinking ship, the Republican Party has moved quickly to jump on the Hoffman bandwagon. They want to share his victory as their own. While it is true that he will probably caucus with the Republicans in the House, this is likely to be a pyrrhic victory for the national party.
Say what you will about Scozzafava’s lack of conservative credentials, she has been an elected Republican for years and was the official nominee of the party. If Doug Hoffman had not jumped into the race, Scozzafava probably would have won. Hoffman did not enter a primary to become the Republican candidate; he ran to defeat the Republican. He has spent weeks trying to tear down the Republican.
Hoffman has benefited from a perfect storm. The Democratic candidate Bill Owen proved to be surprisingly weak and Scozzafava suffered a series of setbacks. Scozzafava’s last minute decision to drop out should help the right rally behind a single candidate and not split the vote. Hoffman did run a great campaign, but he also got very lucky. The more likely outcome was that Hoffman’s Conservative Party candidacy would have cost the Republicans the seat.
Hoffman may win this time, but what about the dozen potential conservative third party candidates who will be inspired to become the next Doug Hoffman? He’s shown them that they can run and win. The number of Republicans who rallied to Hoffman even before Scozzafava dropped out is a bad precedent. It sends the message that candidates having nothing to fear from trying to tear down Republican nominees. If they can hurt the Republican candidates enough, the national party will embrace the cause of their own downfall with open arms.
The NY-23rd special election may be nothing more than that: a very special election. Hoffman could become part of the Republican fold, and his example could be soon forgotten. On the other hand, he may prove to be a harbinger of things to come. He could be the inspiration the very conservative grassroots need to openly challenge the Republican Party. Dozens of Republicans could end up facing extremely conservative primary challengers; or much more importantly, conservative candidates running against them in the general election. Many seats could be lost to a split right caused by a small but very active conservative grassroots movement. The Republicans may celebrate Hoffman’s possible win; but in the long run, they may regret their lack of dedication to party loyalty and integrity. They should hope the message sent by a Hoffman win is not: run, teabaggers run.