Whether they win or lose today's election, Republicans will argue in vain against a news media eager to portray the party as intolerant of moderates. But here is an apt analogy for helping liberal reporters overcome their myopia and understand what's really going on: What if today's race had been in Georgia, and Democratic party leaders there had chosen Zell Miller as their candidate in some smoke-filled back room?
Mainstream, rank-and-file Democrats would rebel at having such a nominee — and rightly so. They would object that his issue positions are all conservative. They would argue that he had become the ally of Sean Hannity and conservative Republican leaders, and retains scarcely a trace of Democratic thinking. (Forget Zell Miller — just look at what they did to Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.)
That's the real story of New York-23.
Presumably, there is some series of questions to which one can attach the statement, “You might be a Republican if you answer 'yes' to any of the following.” Scozzafava is not your ordinary moderate — she checks none of the boxes. In other words, this story has less to do with big or small tents than it has to do with whether there can be any definition of what a Republican is.
By the same token, despite a lot of conservative wishful thinking, even a Republican victory in New York tonight offers few lessons for next year's races. New York's unusual election law promotes robust third party activity. And in next year's races, the party rank-and-file will get to choose their candidates in party primaries in nearly all cases. A win by Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman does not usher in a new age of conservative rebellion, and more than a Democratic win proves conservative irrelevance.