NY 23 – What Is Gingrich Smoking?

Usually I’m in the camp that thinks Newt Gingrich is a pretty good political ideas man (and, frankly, believe that is the only role he should play in politics). But if you’ve been watching this Scozzafava/Hoffman dustup in NY-23, you have to wonder if someone dropped him on his head recently.

Here he is on Greta Van Susteren’s show talking about it and pushing the candidacy of a person anyone would objectively call a liberal Republican candidate. In fact, even Gingrich concedes that:

GINGRICH: Well, I just find it fascinating that my many friends who claim to be against Washington having too much power, they claim to be in favor of the 10th Amendment giving states back their rights, they claim to favor local control and local authority, now they suddenly get local control and local authority in upstate New York, they don’t like the outcome.

There were four Republican meetings. In all four meetings, State Representative Dede Scozzafava came in first. In all four meetings, Mr. Hoffman, the independent, came in either last or certainly not in the top three. He doesn’t live in the district. Dede Scozzafava…

VAN SUSTEREN: He doesn’t live in the district?

GINGRICH: No, he lives outside of the district. Dede Scozzafava is endorsed by the National Rifle Association for her 2nd Amendment position, has signed the no tax increase pledge, voted against the Democratic governor’s big-spending budget, is against the cap-and-trade tax increase on energy, is against the Obama health plan, and will vote for John Boehner, rather than Nancy Pelosi, to be Speaker.

Now, that’s adequately conservative in an upstate New York district. And on other issues, she’s about where the former Republican, McHugh, was. So I say to my many conservative friends who suddenly decided that whether they’re from Minnesota or Alaska or Texas, they know more than the upstate New York Republicans? I don’t think so. And I don’t think it’s a good precedent. And I think if this third party candidate takes away just enough votes to elect the Democrat, then we will have strengthened Nancy Pelosi by the divisiveness. We will not have strengthened the conservative movement.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is it that they have identified as why they think the independent candidate…

GINGRICH: Well, there’s no question, on social policy, she’s a liberal Republican.

VAN SUSTEREN: On such as abortion?

GINGRICH: On such as abortion, gay marriage, which means that she’s about where Rudy Giuliani was when he became mayor. And yet Rudy Giuliani was a great mayor. And so this idea that we’re suddenly going to establish litmus tests, and all across the country, we’re going to purge the party of anybody who doesn’t agree with us 100 percent — that guarantees Obama’s reelection. That guarantees Pelosi is Speaker for life. I mean, I think that is a very destructive model for the Republican Party.

First Gingrich tries to classify Hoffman as a 3rd party candidate. But while he’ll run under the “Conservative party” banner, he’s a conservative Republican. If elected he’ll caucus with the Republicans and he’ll most likely vote with them – probably more than Scozzafava would. And I would guess, given his conservative leanings, he too will be endorsed by the NRA, would sign a no tax increase pledge, would be against cap-and-trade, the health care debacle and would certainly vote for Boehner over Pelosi for Speaker.

Secondly, Gingrich is trying to sell the idea that only an “endorsed” Republican has any right to run. By gosh they met, they chose and Hoffman wasn’t the one. We’ve seen how well that’s worked out with other Republicans they’ve picked haven’t we? It is nonsense on a stick. But more importantly, for a guy who supposedly has his pulse on all things political, Gingrich is flat missing on this one. A recent Gallup poll has said 40 percent of the country describes itself as conservative. Hoffman is identified as solidly conservative. He now leads by 5 points. It would seem to me he might pick up on the fact that the conservative base is telling the party to quit supporting the Scozzafava’s of the world and start listening to its base. What in the world does Gingrich think all of the tea parties were about – business as usual? The contest in NY-23 is the manifestation of those protests showing up in a Congressional race.

Lastly, the “good enough for NY” meme he’s running is being disproven to his face. Mr. Bold Ideas is as cautious as an octogenarian with a walker crossing a 4 lane highway about pushing the conservative ideas he supposedly supports in what he considers a hostile environment. He’s ready to settle for less. He’s more than satisfied with the fact that she’s “a liberal Republican” even though, for most of the Republican base, that’s unacceptable. He’s bought into the conventional wisdom that a conservative can’t win in NY. But that very base liberal NY is raising the BS flag. They’ree tired of not having their principles represented in Congress.

Now whether or not you agree with the social conservative agenda, socialcons are a very large group within the conservative base. They will support the GOP if the GOP runs candidates they like (which explains why McCain did so poorly). They didn’t get that candidate in NY-23 so they’re supporting the type of the Republican they want. The message to the GOP couldn’t be clearer. Gingrich knows that, which is why I’m mystified by his seeming denial of the obvious. This isn’t a 3rd party attempt, this isn’t about what the “party” has decided and it isn’t about picking someone “good enough” for NY. It’s about the base saying in an election what they’ve been saying all across the country in “tea parties” – “Either live up to our principles – all of them – or we’ll find someone who will”. In NY-23, they think they have found that person, and they’re telling the Newt Gingrichs of the Republican party to either figure it out or to pound sand.

Gingrich believes this is a purge of the party that will guarantee the re-election of Obama. And he claims, invoking the holy name of Ronald Reagan, that’s not how the GOP won in the past:

It means that as somebody who worked with Reagan to create a majority in 1980 and somebody who worked to create a majority in 1994, I believe in a Republican Party big enough to have representation in every part of the country, and I believe you don’t strengthen yourself by having a purge. You strengthen yourself by attracting more people, not by driving people away.

I don’t recall Reagan playing the big tent card at all. I remember Reagan stating his principles, then living by them, and welcoming those who thought like him into to the tent. Gingrich, otoh, is talking about compromising principles to do that. They are not at all the same approach, and he’s too smart to not understand that. What the conservatives in NY-23 are doing is approaching it like Reagan did and they’re attracting supporters. That is the best way to fill the tent if you’re serious about principles. It is certainly not by saying “she’s good enough for NY” but she wouldn’t be good enough for, say, Georgia.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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