Blogger Nate Silver is the latest liberal scribe to lament the way so-called moderates in the Republican party are being shown the door by outraged Tea Partiers. In his latest post (his blog is now hosted by the New York Times), he echoes the GOP establishment’s lament that a primary victory by Carl Paladino over Rick Lazio would hurt the Republican Party. The thinking there is that candidates like Paladino hurt the GOP “brand” by making it appear too extreme for mainstream voters to embrace.
Like some other Tea Party favorites around the nation, Paladino is a loose cannon. But it’s hard to accept the idea that a noisy anti-establishment gubernatorial nominee would harm the rest of the Republican ticket, especially in districts where the GOP has a chance to topple incumbent Democrats in Congress and the legislature. Lazio is dead in the water with no chance to beat Andrew Cuomo in November, but the party grandees seem to think that having a candidate at the top of the ticket who has no chance would be better than one who has the ability — and the money — to make more of a splash. But, as I wrote yesterday, the real reason why Republican leaders want no part of Paladino is that he is a threat to the go-along-to-get-along culture of Albany politics.
Silver is less interested in the realties of New York politics than in trying to sell us on the thesis that conservatism dooms Republicans. To that end, he speaks of the tradition of “Rockefeller” liberal Republicans who have done well in the past in New York. But Republicans have won elections in New York in the era that followed the domination of the party by the likes of Tom Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, and Jacob Javits. Ronald Reagan won the state in both 1980 and 1984. And Al D’Amato and George Pataki each won three statewide votes by positioning themselves as common-sense conservatives, not traditional GOP liberals. It isn’t clear that the “moderate” Republicans whom Silver and the GOP big shots say will stay home in November still exist in any appreciable numbers. While I agree that Cuomo is in such a strong position that he probably needn’t fear any Republican opponent right now, the GOP’s only hope for a respectable showing in the governor’s race as well as for an increased turnout for other more competitive races is to convince alienated independents and Republicans, who were disillusioned by the tax-and-spend policies of Pataki’s later years in office, that there’s a chance for their party to finally embrace a platform of reform.
This exposes the key fallacy of the liberal reaction to the Tea Party and the anti-incumbent tide sweeping the nation this year. They seem to believe that voter outrage over the massive expansion of federal power and budget by Obama and the Democrats is a confidence trick being pulled off by conservatives rather than a genuine movement that taps into mainstream concerns. The central question today is not, as Silver says, whether moderates think “there is any longer a place for them within the [Republican] party.” Rather, it is whether Democrats understand that anger over taxes, government-funded patronage, and influence peddling is strong enough to create a political wave that could threaten their hold on even the bluest of states this fall.