I think the NY-23 story is a great illustration of two basic and related phenomena. First, party coalition members constantly negotiate and renegotiation their party’s collective position, and they often do so with nominations. Second, ideologues strongly influence the preferences of party activists, so the party ultimately has to respond to them.
First, the negotiation. This is not about upstart outsiders messing with the “real” party in New York. The New York state and local party leaders represent some interests in the Republican Party, but they are more moderate, in their own preferences or at least in the preference of voters they are responsive to. The national party includes folks like that, but it also includes “movement conservative” types, like Sarah Palin. I think it’s wrong to call these people “the base.” In The Party Decides, we called them “policy demanders.” They want something, and it might be different from what upstate NY Republicans want. But since the member goes to Washington, they care about who that person is. That these different interests would fight it out over a nomination is to be expected.
The kicker here is Scozzafava’s endorsement of Owens. A lot of commentators portrayed the pro-Hoffman wing of the party as lacking in party loyalty, but Scozzafava is the one who really bolted the party. She kind of does look like a DIABLO (Democrat in All But Label Only) in retrospect.
Second, the ideologues. A lot of what holds the party together is a conservative ideology, which is reinforced by Glenn Beck but is created by more serious people (like writers in the National Review and the Weekly Standard). Those people and their writings are what creates the conservative movement. Conservatism is not merely an electoral strategy. It’s a belief system, and one that important and powerful players share.
This is important, because as you may have noticed, Hoffman lost in NY-23, while more moderate Republican gubernatorial candidates won in NJ and VA (mostly for the reasons Marc Hetherington laid out in an earlier post). If all you care about is electing Republicans, Hoffman was a blunder. But if you’re a movement conservative, winning the seat with someone who so easily switched to the Democrats might be only marginally better than losing it.