Monday, January 11, 2010

Primary Rules of Engagement

The latest offensive from the Tea Party movement is to warn Republican Party leaders that if they do not adhere to “constitutional” conservatism then they are going to be “ostracized.” Challenging Republican incumbents in primary elections will be the vehicle to punish the GOPers who do not adhere to the movement’s principles. This strategy is perfectly legitimate until it strays into territory explored by the Tea Party movement in New York’s 23rd congressional district and results in a sore loser variable that diminishes the movement’s legitimacy as an enforcer of “constitutional” conservatism.

In NY’s 23rd CD contest the losing GOP primary candidate, who earlier vowed to support his Republican primary opponent in the event she won reversed himself and mounted a third party challenge in the general election. This was an excessively lose application of the rules of primary election engagement that resulted in the escalation of the conflict between conservatives and moderates in the GOP and ultimately resulted in the GOP losing a seat in the US House of Representatives.

The rules of engagement have traditionally been that a primary election challenge is the best method to influence the direction of a political party. Using the rules of engagement of a primary election determines when, where and how force (in this case electoral) shall be used. When these rules are loosely observed (or flatly rejected), the violator abdicates legitimacy. Doug Hoffman competed for the Republican nomination, lost and subsequently sought and received the Conservative Party nomination in the general election contest and ultimately forced out the Republican nominee. Mr. Hoffman, for all intents and purposes, ran under the mantle of the Tea Party Patriots given the climate of the moment.

If the Tea Party Patriots are intent on changing the direction of the GOP (and in turn the US Congress) by engaging in Republican primary election contests then they must comply with the outcome, regardless if their candidates win or lose. To dismiss losing results by later running as third party candidates in general elections clearly implies that those running the movement and their candidates do not intend to influence the direction of the GOP but rather sabotage the GOP.  If the Tea Party's goal is to have influence on Capitol Hill then they should build their own party and allow the Republican Party and its primary voters to take their desired course without intrusion by sore losers.

If Mr. Hoffman’s performance is indicative of what is to come from the Tea Party’s directive to punish Republican incumbents then the movement is as guilty of gaming the electoral system as those they seek to condemn and punish. Such actions smack of vengeance and such vengeful intentions defile the Tea Party’s stated principles.