Hans Noel on NY-23

by John Sides on November 4, 2009 · 6 comments

in Uncategorized

I asked Hans Noel for his reactions to NY-23. Hans has guestblogged here before and is the co-author of a recent book on political parties and presidential nominations, The Party Decides.

Hans writes:

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.


Matt Jarvis November 4, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I’m not sure if I’d be willing to label Scozzofava as a DIABLO, and that has implications.

From where I sit, she was *pushed* out of the party. Selected and endorsed by “the party,” movement conservatives stumbled on the race as a way to bolster their own conservative bona fides. They staged a revolt, and the party insiders caved instantly. She endorsed Owens for two reasons, I think: 1) pique, and 2) the old “I didn’t leave the party, the party left me” line.

I agree that NY-23 is, on one level, good for movement conservatives, but not because they don’t want Scozzofava around. Rather, they said jump and the party AND media jumped. However, I would even qualify “good for movement conservatives” by saying “good for CERTAIN movement conservatives.” Dobson threatened to take his ball and go home in 2008, and Limbaugh was doing similar things. In the end, they “discovered” that Johnny Mac was the best thing since sliced bread. However, Palin and Beck come out of this smelling like roses. NY-23 helps Palin play kingmaker in 2012 (I think she won’t run), and that strengthens HER within the party, but at the end of the day, does that matter if you sentence the party to 40 years in the wilderness?

Hans Noel November 4, 2009 at 3:52 pm


1. I’m not the one who originally labeled Scozzofava. She may have felt pushed out, but she didn’t have to endorse Owens.

2. I don’t think there’s much wrong with your analysis of the incentives, but I don’t see much of a role for policy preferences there. I can’t prove that the substance of political combat matters more than career incentives, but I have good reason to believe it matters a lot.

Jonathan Bernstein November 4, 2009 at 4:26 pm

I tend to agree with Matt about Scozzofava. Yes, she reacted to the provocation by switching sides, but that doesn’t mean that she started the race with weak partisan loyalties. I don’t know much about her, but suddenly getting labeled a radical communist, or whatever they were calling her, might just have pushed her over the edge — AFAIK, she was just a small-time pol all of a sudden getting the full weight of national attention aimed at her.

The analogy would be Lieberman, who shifted sharply right after his tough primary. Sometimes it’s not about policy preferences or incentives; sometimes it’s just personal.

Hans Noel November 4, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I can’t argue with that. She was a Republican in the first place for a reason. But in retrospect, it sure looks like her critics were right. From their point of view, she is closer to the Dem than their ideal candidate.

Matt Jarvis November 4, 2009 at 5:08 pm

You’re absolutely right about two things in your comment
1) My analysis focused on career/electoral consequences over personal policy preferences.
2) Many, many people care about the substance of the policy fights.

I think the question that becomes an open one is the degree to which “the movement” flexing its muscles helps or hurts them in terms of policy or in the aggregate. What’s good for Palin might not be good for Palin’s supporters. I like to think back to Goldwater as an example of the myriad effects going to the poles can have. Goldwater, of course, got slaughtered in the election. His run, however, inspired Reagan and scores of other people. To argue that Goldwater’s conservativism didn’t affect American politics is silly, but sometimes we’re talking about 2nd and 3rd order effects being the most important. It starts to get very messy in the land of predictions.

I’m not disagreeing with you; I just chose to focus on the somewhat neater electoral effects. I’m not sure what the policy consequences are of “the movement” flexing its muscles. It may be that NY-23 is akin to crossing the Rubicon.

Hans Noel November 4, 2009 at 5:39 pm


That’s a good point. The key for me is that to understand the event, we need to look at more than the electoral incentives, because the actors we are trying to understand cared about more than the electoral incentives. Whether those actors acted optimally is second order.

FWIW: I don’t think NY23 is crossing any Rubicon, because I don’t think anything that happened yesterday has much meaning long term.

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