So Sarah Palin has endorsed a right-wing candidate, Doug Hoffman, running on the Conservative Party line for a House seat in Upstate New York, rebuking a moderate Republican in a forthcoming special election. And while it’s true that Palin’s politics probably mesh better with Hoffman’s, strategically, I have to wonder: What is she thinking?
If Hoffman — somehow — wins with her help, she will have alienated a GOP establishment desperate to reconstruct past majority coalitions that included moderates, both because she will have hurt their cause and because they will fear her influence among true believers. In return, she might continue to appeal to some far-right primary voters in 2012, but that only gets you so far (a possible victory in Iowa, owing to the heavy social conservative vote in the caucuses there, and perhaps respectable showings in the South). In other words, in this best-case scenario, she will have begun to lay the groundwork to be the Mike Huckabee of 2012. Except in 2012, she will probably be running against, well, Mike Huckabee. By contrast, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is spending his time dutifully stumping for candidates such as Virginia’s Bob McDonnell. And, yes, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty seems to be hinting that he might endorse Hoffman, too, which would also be strategically suspect. But it would be more understandable, given that the relatively moderate Pawlenty is trying to buff up his conservative cred, something Palin already has.
And if Hoffman loses? If Republican Dede Scozzafava beats him and Democrat Bill Owens, it will humiliate Palin — who was she to presume that her endorsement would matter in New York? More than anything, though, Palin’s endorsement probably makes an Owens victory more likely. That would not just be a humiliation for Palin. It would be a notable loss for her party as it is trying to shake off years of electoral debacle. Of course, it’s possible that Palin isn’t actually planning to run in 2012, leaving her free to ignore such strategic concerns and endorse as she pleases. If only.
The Washington Post