Well, the results in NY-23 have certainly thrown conventional wisdom on its head. I, like most people, expected a solid Hoffman win this evening. Instead we saw the Democrat pick up a seat they haven't held in 100 years. Already people are saying there are no lessons to be learned from NY-23. That's nonsense. There are lessons to be learned everywhere, including unique circumstances. So what can we learn from this?
1) A Republican district is not necessarily a conservative one, or at least it's not necessarily a Glenn Beck-listening, Sarah Palin-adoring, Red State-reading district. In fact, it's highly likely that there are some Republican-leaning districts where an appearance by Sarah Palin could cost you more than she gets you. Oh, you'll get tons of supporters turning out to see her, and they'll be enthusiastic as can be, but they were already going to vote for you. The tea party celebrities are great cheerleaders, but they're not on the field. Ultimately they can't lead you to victory.
2) Owens was the beneficiary of some pretty ugly conservative infighting. The Scozzafava campaign was so busy filing police reports against reporters from The Weekly Standard, and the Tea Party crowd was too busy trying to convince Republicans to "Dump Dede" that Owens remained largely unscathed. In a perfect world, the argument wouldn't be about whether or not differing strains of conservatism can co-exist in the Republican Party, but how best to determine what strain of conservatism is most likely to work in any given race.
3) New Republicans, I fear, will use this as "evidence" of the Tea Parties failure, and will likely gloat about the loss. Good Republicans should never be pleased about losing a seat, and if we're talking about the need for a strong party, then that means we should all be bothered by Hoffman's loss. Like it or not, he was the standard-bearer of conservatism and Republicanism in the race... and he lost. New Republicans can't realistically claim that Scozzafava was going to win the election without Hoffman's presence, because many conservative Republicans would have simply stayed home. Hoffman was popular for a reason, and New Republicans have to recognize why he nearly beat Owens last night. Many of his positions are very popular, and not incorrect. We do need to spend less money. We do need more accountability in government. We do need the heavy hand of bureaucracy to develop a lighter touch. These are issues that resonate with large swaths of the voting public, but the New Republicans are too consumed by their distaste for the messenger that they give no real thought to the message.
That's the tragedy here. Both Tea Partiers and New Republicans want the GOP to maintain it's ideological purity as determined by them. Both sides seem to forget that conservatism has always had many strains. Conservatism isn't like communism. It has no single author. If the Tea Partiers can find room in their philosophy for both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two men who were political enemies for most of their post-Revolution lives, then why can't they find room in modern conservatism for Sarah Palin and David Frum? And if the New Republicans see that a pro-life Republican can win, even in the northeast, then maybe they'll realize that as long as social issues aren't at the forefront of a campaign, a socially conservative candidate can find success in some pretty "blue" areas of the country.