IN yesterday’s election in New York’s 23rd district, the Republican Party lost a seat it has owned for 120 years. This was because the GOP candidate, Dede Scozzafava, was excommunicated by the Tea Party conservatives and forced out of the race, paving the way for a contest between Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party Doug Hoffman. Hoffman was the darling of the Tea Party crowd, Rush Limbagh, and Sarah Palin – and he got crushed.

Wasn’t the conservatives’ argument always supposed to be that running a “real conservative” would mean victory? If that’s the case, then why didn’t Hoffman win in NY-23 over the liberal Democrat?

The wins by Republicans McDonnell and Chris Christie as Governor for VA and NJ, respectively are also being spun as a victory for conservatives, but they ran as pragmatic problem solvers, not Hoffman-style conservative fire-breathers. Overall, yesterday’s elections provide some solid empirical evidence that the basic conservative thesis of purity above pragmatism is false.

There are numerous post-mortems about NY-23 rolling in this morning. For example, Max Blumenthal points out how Hoffman was just a Tea Party empty suit relative to the concerns of the district itself:

With endorsements from the National Rifle Association, the National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican Party elders Newt Gingrich and New York Rep. Peter King, Scozzafava was assured an easy victory. Then Hoffman declared his candidacy on the Conservative Party line. Hoffman was a lawyer and Tea Party activist who did not live in the district and, according to the local Watertown Daily-Times, “showed no grasp of the bread-and-butter issues pertinent to district residents.” Offered as his only selling point: ideological purity.

Hoffman instantly became the point man for the national conservative movement, dedicating himself to fulfilling the right’s dream of a complete purge of moderate elements in the GOP. Campaigning in a local constituency of mostly Republican regulars, Hoffman behaved as though he were running in a presidential primary. He slammed Scozzafava for supporting abortion rights and gay marriage, substituting the hot button issues that had electrified the national Tea Party movement rather than the bread and butter concerns of the working class district he campaigned to represent.

That’s hardly unsurprising, though because the primary point of the modern conservative movement is to enforce ideological purity, not actcually be concerned with paltry things like “governance” or “representation”.

The actual cognitive dissonance from the scions of the Right – such as Erick Erickson at RedState, who proclaimed that Owens’ win was a “victory for conservatives” (rightly mocked elsewhere). The Democrat won, the Republican was excommunicated, and the “pure” conservative solidly thumped, and this is a victory? What would a defeat have looked like? Erickson goes on to argue, incomprehensibly,

First, the GOP now must recognize it will either lose without conservatives or will win with conservatives. In 2008, many conservatives sat home instead of voting for John McCain. Now, in NY-23, conservatives rallied and destroyed the Republican candidate the establishment chose.

Wait, didn’t the conservative lose in NY-23? Wouldn’t the moderate Republican have won? Isn’t 2+2=5? Are there four lights? If the conservatives in NY-23 really “rallied” then presumably they’d have voted. For the conservative.

Erickson also tries to argue that “Were we to combine Scozzafava and Hoffman’s votes, Hoffman would have won.” Sure, but wouldn’t it also be true that if you were to combine Scozzafava and Hoffman’s votes, Scozzafava would have won?

Erick closes with a warning:

For all intents and purposes, NY-23 is a trial run for Florida. And in Florida, the conservative candidate is operating inside the GOP. If John Cornyn and the NRSC do not want to see Florida go the way of NY-23, they better stand down.

I think he’s going to find that the NRSC derives exactly the opposite conclusion from the events of last night. And rightly so. The evidence from last night spoke volumes about ideological purity – and if anything, it’s liberals who are validated, not conservatives. Blue Dogs, take note.

Related reading from yesterday, prior to the election outcome but rather predictive: Larison wondered why the conservatives think that nationalizing elections will help them. And at Open Left, plenty of evidence and data to suggest Republicans should be quite terrified of 2010. The thing that these critics don’t seem to understand is that we aren’t dealing with rational actors, but instead “mad mullahs” of conservatism. Just listen to conservative blogger Rick Moran, who strayed outside the reservation, lambasting “anti-reason conservatives”. He was proven right, and will be proven right again:

In truth, the gloating being done on the far right over the ravaging of Scozzafava has led to a belief that the template used to stick it to the establishment in NY23 can be grafted on to other districts where “RINO’s” are running – GOP incumbents be damned.


UPDATE: My Belieffnet colleague Rod Dreher puts it succinctly:

We’ve been told over and over these past couple of weeks that Hoffman, the Palin-Beck candidate, was giving NY23 voters “a choice, not an echo.” Well, guess what? Voters chose Democrat Bill Owens — which is to say, they rejected Hoffman. Blaming the New York GOP for Hoffman’s loss strikes me as an attempt to dismiss evidence that challenges the dogma that running to the Tea Party right is a winning strategy.

UPDATE 2: Sarah Palin was a big supporter of Hoffman. The outcome in NY23 is a major black eye for her.

More from Beliefnet and our partners