In a previous post, I explained why there's no especially good reason for libertarians (or, especially, partisan Libertarians) to jump on Doug Hoffman's Conservative Party bandwagon in New York's 23rd US House District.
Just because Hoffman's not noticeably more libertarian than his GOP opponent, Dede Scozzafava (and in some ways noticeably less libertarian), though, that doesn't mean we wouldn't benefit from a Hoffman victory, or even a "spoiler" showing. We very well might -- and those benefits might be minor or major.
The "minor benefits" package looks something like this:
To the extent that the race represents a confrontation between the Republican Party's establishment on one hand and its conservative faction on the other, there will be fallout.
If the GOP folds -- plays the "we learned our lesson" card and starts catering to its conservative faction to an even greater degree than it has for the last 30 years (if that's even possible) -- the Libertarian Party stands to pick up some new supporters for whom this is the last straw. The GOP's libertarian faction isn't large, but it's probably larger than the existing LP. Despite its best efforts, the LP hasn't done well at recruiting from that faction ... but a GOP capitulation might change that as "libertarian Republicans" come to the realization that they're once again being ordered to remain quietly seated at the Kids' Table, while the New York temper tantrum has earned the conservatives yet another chair at the Big People's Table. An additional benefit might be that the LP gains third party cred/vote share versus the Constitution Party as CP members decide the GOP really has learned its lesson and return to the Republican fold.
If the GOP decides instead to spank the conservatives and send them to their room without dinner, on the other hand, the "libertarian Republican" faction stands to make some moderate gains within the party. "Libertarian Republican" candidates may get support from the RNC and other party committees in next year's congressional primaries, with petulant conservatives denied that support.
The "major benefits" package is a lot less likely, but while we're dreaming, let's dream:
There's some chance, however, small, that if the GOP stands up to its conservative faction -- spanks it and sends it to its room without dinner, as I put it -- the little bastards will crawl out the window and run away in large numbers. To the Conservative Party in New York, probably; to other conservative third parties (the Constitution Party, Alan Keyes's startup, etc.) elsewhere, or perhaps the Conservative Party itself will go national.
If that happens, the fallout won't all be good. As a matter of fact, it may well be cataclysmic. A substantial split in the GOP -- say, 20% of its support going off to one or more other parties -- means that the US will go, overnight, from de facto one-party state to something an awful lot like a de jure one-party state. Neither a rump GOP nor its defectors, even if unified, are going to be able to pull pluralities or majorities in very many congressional or state legislative districts, and that's assuming (it's never safe to assume) that some "mainstream" Republican pols won't respond to their party's disintegration by crossing the aisle to become Democrats.
If this thing goes all the way, head to head, mainstream GOP versus conservatives, we're looking at the Democrats very likely pulling up into the area of 70-75 seats in the US Senate and 300-350 seats in the US House of Representatives in 2010-2012. That's bad. In the short term, even the occasional gridlock that the two wings of the Uniparty sometimes get into would be much better.
There's an up side, too: If the GOP splits in any substantial way, it becomes a "third party." Still a bigger "third party" than the Libertarian Party, but suddenly the playing field gets a lot more level for Libertarians in our attempts to become "the second party." The whole "Republicans are better than Libertarians because we can win" schtick goes flatter than day-old beer.
Winning that battle would be a long shot; and it's an even longer shot that we'll get the chance to fight it at all. If Hoffman wins next month, the GOP will almost certainly grovel and buy its conservative faction off with flattery and power; if he "spoils," which is the most likely outcome, it's 50/50 whether the GOP grovels or gets out the bullwhip, and either way the case against a split will be more persuasive to conservatives.
But hey, we can dream. The conservatives are pulling out all stops to bring this fight to a head of some kind -- The Other McCain reports that Dick Armey is now stumping for Hoffman. With Newt Gingrich on record in support of Scozzafava, at the very least this thing will probably have an impact on the 2012 GOP presidential field. If Hoffman wins and the GOP holds together, Mike Huckabee benefits; if Hoffman "spoils," Gingrich gets an "I told you so" opportunity. Romney and Palin seem to be staying away from the whole thing and I don't blame them.
Update: Eric Sundwall, former chair of the Libertarian Party of New York, has been good enough to weigh in with occasional comments, especially on New York related stuff. Be sure to check out his blog for more good stuff.
Related Memeorandum topics:
Newt Gingrich on "practical choices"
David Frum on "Republican fratricide"