Dissatisfaction with President Obama and the Democrats in Congress is leading observers to give Republicans an even chance of ousting the majority in both houses. But instead of looking forward to a fall campaign in which they will be part of a national turkey shoot of Democratic incumbents, New York Republicans are already threatening to blow what little remains of their party.
The reason is the prospect that Carl Paladino, a well-funded Albany insider who has taken up the cudgels for the Tea Party, might defeat former Congressman Rick Lazio, the party regulars’ chosen candidate for governor. Lazio is best remembered as the not-ready-for-prime-time human crash dummy that collided with the Hillary Clinton juggernaut in 2000. Lazio has floundered in his run this year and hasn’t a prayer of beating Democrat Andrew Cuomo in November.
Paladino might not do better, but the GOP leadership is committed to going quietly to the slaughterhouse with Lazio rather than take a chance on a problematic wild card like Paladino. But they aren’t just working for Lazio to prevail in the primary. They are acting as if the not altogether unlikely possibility of Paladino beating Lazio is a worse calamity than a landslide loss to Cuomo. In an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Republican leaders made it clear that Paladino’s insurgent run is a greater danger to them than the Democrats. This conclusion was amplified in today’s New York Post, where Fred Dicker reports that Harry Wilson, the GOP’s candidate for state controller, will back Cuomo in the fall if Paladino bests Lazio.
Even odder is the fact that according to the Times, the head of New York’s Conservative Party, whose continued existence has always been justified by its ability to act as a check on the elitist and establishmentarian preferences of the leadership of the state’s Republican Party, is also aghast about the way Paladino is harnessing Tea Party activism.
“If Carl Paladino wins this thing, it will cause severe damage — it could be for decades — to the Republican Party of New York State,” said Michael Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, which usually aligns with the Republicans and has nominated Mr. Lazio this year. “The party,” he added, “would live in darkness for quite some time.”
Really, Mr. Long? Despite Paladino’s checkered record, would his primary victory make things any darker for the Republicans than the current situation, which produced a certain loser like Lazio? Could Paladino’s populism be worse for the long-term future of the party than the mess left by former governor George Pataki and his mentor, former senator Al D’Amato? If the dwindling number of registered Republicans in the state are willing to embrace a character like Paladino, maybe it’s because they think of their party as having become the home of a leadership that is just as corrupt and devoted to influence-peddling as the Democrats. The prospect that Republican voters would consider such a controversial figure rather than meekly accept their leadership’s lame choice is actually a sign that their moribund party still has a pulse, not a harbinger of its doom.