Conservatives in a purging mood, again

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By Rick Howell

    Democrats picked up two more seats in the House on Election Day, winning special elections in New York and California. The party’s majority in the House now is such that it won’t be seriously threatened for many election cycles.

    Most of the media’s attention was on New York’s 23rd congressional district. There, conservative ideologues wickedly attacked the GOP nominee and forced her out of the race.

    Remember Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment for members of his party? Never speak ill of a fellow Republican. Well, the former president must have turned over in his grave to see how his commandment was so thoroughly trashed in New York.

    Dede Scozzafava, a rare breed moderate in the GOP, was subjected to what she later described as “vicious” attacks, all of them coming from Republicans. Despite taking more conservative stances on issues than moderate or liberal ones, “homo lover” and “child killer” were a few of the epithets aimed at her by conservative purists.

    At first, national Republicans stood by her. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich urged Republicans to take the Reagan approach and support the party’s nominee.

    But other conservatives couldn’t help themselves. The Conservative Party of New York (whatever that is…) had its own nominee, Doug Hoffman. Sarah Palin, that “rogue” from Alaska, jumped in first and endorsed Hoffman. Other right-wingers followed. Ideological fanaticism was beginning to trump party loyalty.

    You probably know the result. Scozzafava, clearly stung by the rebuke from her own party, withdrew from the race and endorsed the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens. He won, picking up a seat for his party in what was obviously a Republican-leaning district.

    Here’s the question: What, exactly, did the conservative fire-breathers achieve? The first answer is obvious…they cost the GOP a seat in Congress. Secondly, they demonstrated that they believe all Republicans must drink from the same font of conservative holy water that so intoxicates them. No moderates allowed, anywhere.

    This episode also shows who really dominates the Republican Party. Chairman Michael Steele is almost completely irrelevant. The radio talk show hosts, the Glenn Beck-inspired “birthers” and tea party fanatics, and the Fox “News” Network have far more influence than he does.

    But wait…there’s more to come. The same people who purged Scozzafava have promised to exert their influence in House and Senate races next year. One such case is the open Senate seat in Florida, where Governor Charlie Crist, a favorite of John McCain, wants the GOP nomination.

    But there’s another candidate, Marco Rubio, more pleasing to the right-wing rabble. This could pit Palin against the very man who so tragically brought her to the national stage, John McCain. In a way, it would almost serve him right, wouldn’t it?

    If we learned anything from this election cycle, it was a very old lesson. Independents are always up for grabs in every election. As they did in Virginia both last year and this year, they can very often sway the results.

    But they’re the last people to be attracted to overly-ideological movements, such as the one now besieging the GOP. Yes, they have concerns about the Obama agenda, and they expressed that on Election Day.

    But they can see that the Democratic Party has a big tent composed of liberals, moderates and even some conservatives. They can’t be pleased to see the Republicans heading in the opposite direction.

    Go ahead, Sarah. Go ahead, Glenn. Purge your party. And get ready to give up even more Republican seats to the Democrats. I’m all for that.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.