On the weekend before a nationally-covered upstate New York Congressional election, the Republican candidate endorsed the Democratic candidate. This is a rarity in American politics, if not a first.
Rightbloggers played a key role in this historical achievement. Let’s step back several weeks and see what happened.
Once upon a time Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava was running for the 23rd Congressional District seat, which Republican John McHugh recently abandoned to serve as Obama’s Secretary of the Army. Like McHugh and his predecessor Sherwood Boehlert, Scozzafava is (or was, depending on how you look at it) one of that vanishing breed known as moderate Republicans, with a mixed plate of positions. She’s pro-choice and pro-gay-marriage, for example, but was endorsed in this race by the NRA.
She was challenged on the right by Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who called himself “the conservative Republican in this race.” The Democrats nominated a rich lawyer, Bill Owens, who was a registered independent at the time of his selection.
In September Scozzafava was enjoying a comfortable 10-point lead on Owens, with Hoffman slightly behind him. Then conservatives, angered by Scozzafava’s ideological impurities, started stirring the pot.
“A safe, reliable GOP district. So what do the party bosses do?” asked Good Sense Politics. “Nominate one of the very few pro-gay-marriage Republicans around. Nice, huh?” The Susan B. Anthony List endorsed Hoffman against the “abortion radical who does not represent the views of the growing majority of pro-life American women.”
Still bigger guns came after Scozzafava: not only was she “pro-gay marriage” and “pro-abortion,” said Erick Erickson of RedState; she was also “pro-big government ACORN.” In her Assembly campaigns, he revealed, “Scozzafava has repeatedly been backed by ACORN in state legislative elections in New York,” and “maintains a voting record the Working Families Party, ACORN’s political arm, supports.” (WFP actually backed Owens in this race, but Erickson and his colleagues ignored this; it wasn’t Owens they were after.)
Came October, and Scozzafava was still leading. But the conservative Club for Growth went to work for the Conservative, with press releases (“Scozzafava Embraces Spitzer-Paterson Budget”) and with money. Americans for Taxpayer Reform leapt in, demanding Scozzafava join Hoffman in signing its Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
Big-time rightblogger Michelle Malkin began what became her regular pounding of Scozzafava as an “ACORN-Friendly, Big Labor-Backing, Tax-and-Spend Radical in GOP Clothing.” Malkin mentioned “radical abortion and gay marriage policies,” but leaned on the ACORN connection, a proven outrage generator among her flock. “Scozzafava now claims she would have voted to de-fund ACORN,” said Malkin, but she was yet cozy with “another inextricably linked ACORN and WFP affiliate… Big Labor.” She’d accepted union donations and had fudged on the issue of card check, which is favored by Democrats. “That’s not moderation,” said Malkin. “That’s extremist fringe.”
Scozzafava tried to patch things up. She signed the tax pledge — but it did her no good (“Scozzafava is willing to sign any pledge and do anything to get elected,” said M.R. Newman of RedState, who further claimed, “If she was principled in her moderacy, I could at least respect that”). She publicly opposed cap-and-trade — but some rightbloggers claimed she actually supported it, and others dismissed it as a ruse (“Scozzafava is a pro-abortion, pro-gay, pro-tax, pro-big government liberal that only held on to the ‘R’ after her name because she opposes Cap and Trade legislation”). She won the endorsement of the NRA — rightbloggers ignored it, while advertising Hoffman’s membership in the organization.
Erickson kept up the outrage: “Do the RNC, NRCC, and Dede Scozzafava condone eugenics and sterilization of the poor and minorities?” he said when Scozzafava accepted the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood.
Perhaps hoping to bring the troops home, Newt Gingrich came to Scozzafava’s defense. Rightbloggers instead turned their fire on the architect of the Contract with America. “Perhaps it is time to go your own way,” Malkin told Gingrich, “with Al Sharpton and Nancy Pelosi.”
They went after the GOP candidate harder. John McCormack of the Weekly Standard questioned Scozzafava at a dinner and, when she stopped answering his questions, followed her into the parking lot. Her husband called the cops on McCormack. “Radical leftist Dede Scozzafava can’t stand the heat,” said Malkin.
The Scozzafava campaign claimed McCormack “screamed questions” at her. Rightbloggers found the claim absurd. “Everybody who knows McCormack knows he’s the polar opposite of that kind of guy… mild-mannered and unfailingly polite,” claimed Pundit & Pundette. National Review‘s Jim Geraghty called for Scozzfava to resign the nomination over her “false police report… You can call this throwing someone under the bus, but there’s a difference between severing a tie over political inconvenience and severing it over criminal behavior.” (No charges were filed.)
As calls for her ouster spread, Scozzafava attempted to hold a press conference at Hoffman headquarters, where she was swamped by conservatives holding Hoffman signs. “Invite the press to watch you make a fool of yourself with ‘Hoffman for Congress’ signs behind you,” laughed Are You Freaking Stupid. “All I can say is. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA.” RedState’s streiff compared Scozzafava to a cow.
Owens grabbed the lead, Sarah Palin and other prominent Republicans endorsed Hoffman, and Scozzafava’s funding dried up. Despite the fact that Owens, not Scozzafava, had the WFP endorsement, Malkin kept tying her to the Party (“Look what Scozzafava’s favorite ACORN front group is up to now“). The Club for Growth ran a poll showing Hoffman ahead; a Daily Kos poll showed him neck and neck with Owens, with Scozzafava well back, as did a Siena Poll.
Rightbloggers even upped the ante in their nomenclature. Not content to call Scozzafava a RINO (Republican in Name Only) as tradition dictates, Mark Steyn declared her a DIABLO — “Democrat In All But Label Only.” The “Only” was syntactically superfluous, but added a demonic flourish rightbloggers enjoyed. Blogs for Victory’s Mark Noonan called it “kinda catchy.” “DeeDee is the classic DIABLO,” concurred Atlas Shrugs.
On Saturday Scozzafava “suspended” her campaign — or, as Pat Dollard put it, “Communist-Posing-As-Republican Judy Scozzafava Drops Out.” She at first declined to make an endorsement — which had rightbloggers, who had been hammering her a radical leftist, declaring that Hoffman would pick up her votes. Some even congratulated her on her public-spiritedness.
“Look for Hoffman to garner most of Scozzafava’s Independent and GOP support,” said Right Klik. “Give her credit for not wanting to play the spoiler,” said Brain Droppings. “Scozzafava Quits NY Race For Hoffman… Nothing became Ms. Scozzafava’s campaign like the leaving it,” said Sweetness & Light.
Despite calling Scozzafava a “moderate/liberal” and a “Republican hack,” The Patriots Pen declared her leaving “should put Doug Hoffman in an excellent position to win the seat.” “From the look of the polls,” said Manly’s Republic, “it appears that Obama-style Democrat oligarchy is going to get it’s collective ass kicked back to Karl Marx’s grave in London.”
The Susan B. Anthony List, which had slammed Scozzafava as an “abortion radical,” now praised her “courage and strength” and called for a Hoffman victory. Even the Dump Dede site, which had denounced the former candidate as an “ACORN-backed, Working Families Party-endorsed liberal,” turned gentle, commending her for “recognizing that the truly good thing to do is to bow out. It takes a certain level of humility to do so and I’m glad that she listened to the constituents.”
RNC Chair Michael Steele called her suspension “a selfless act” and ported his Committee’s support to Hoffman. Too late, though, as far as rightbloggers were concerned: “The GOP Establishment Must Be Purged,” Erick Erickson said, telling conservatives “instead of packing up and fleeing the GOP, we should launch a coup and take it back.” Underground Conservative agreed: “The next thing is for the conservatives to take back control of the Republican Party — with a purge.”
“For the Republicans who consider themselves conservative and still endorsed Scozzafava,” said Proud Conservative, “let this be a lesson to you. We are done with the RINOs… You want us back? Start supporting the conservative candidates.”
But on Sunday Scozzafava — perhaps figuring she had nothing to lose, and seeking a last bit of revenge on the folks who drummed her out of the race — threw her support to Owens.
Rightbloggers affected to be outraged that the candidate they’d been persecuting for weeks failed to support the party they had taken over.
“The Republican Party spent $900,000.00 to help her and this is how she repays them,” cried Erickson.
“Once again, RiNOs attampt to screw over the conservatives when they can’t have their way,” said The Saloon.
“Confirmed: Dede Scozzafava is a DIABLO,” cried Darleen Click, denouncing “Fascist Leftists like Valerie Jarrett” who “would have you believe Dede was a ‘moderate Republican’ and Hoffman’s rising popularity is due to Republican Party leadership ‘becoming more and more extreme, and more and more marginalized.'” Where would anyone get that idea?
Conspiracy theories were floated. “No word yet on what sort of payoff Scozzafava will get for her whoring herself out to the American Marxist Left,” said the Jawa Report. “What Kind of Job Did the White House Promise Scozzafava?” asked Top Conservatives on Twitter.
New derisive names were invented: “Trojan Horse Scozzafava” (The Reaganite Republican), “Petty prick” (This Ain’t Hell), “Dumb Dede” (Fire Andrea Mitchell), “One Bad Cup of Scuzzy Java” (Invincible Armor), etc.
“I hope she enjoys her new party,” said Don Surber. “Hey, maybe she can take some of her RINO supporters with her.”
We suppose that’s the idea, but whether she can bring enough of them soon enough to elect Owens remains to be seen. What is clear is that rightbloggers, and their high-profile patrons, are not just committed to keeping the Republican Party ideologically pure — they’ve got the pull to do it, even in districts where moderate Republicans used to win elections. It’s certainly some kind of victory. But it will take a few more election days to find out exactly what they’ve won.