"Sometimes party loyalty asks too much," said JFK.
For Sarah Palin, party loyalty in New York's 23rd congressional district asks too much. Going rogue, Palin endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over Republican Dede Scozzafava.
On Oct. 1, Scozzafava was leading. Today, she trails Democrat Bill Owens and is only a few points ahead of Hoffman, as Empire State conservatives defect to vote their principles, not their party.
Newt Gingrich stayed on the reservation, endorsing Scozzafava, who is pro-choice and pro-gay rights, and hauls water for the unions.
Scourged by the right, Newt accused conservatives of going over the hill in the battle to save the republic, just to get a buzz on. "If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed, then I probably made the wrong decision." How Scozzafava would prevent America's being "crushed" was unexplained.
The 23rd recalls a famous Senate race 40 years ago. Rep. Charles Goodell was picked by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to fill the seat of Robert Kennedy in 1968. To hold onto it, Goodell swerved sharp left, emerging as an upstate Xerox copy of Jacob Javits, the most liberal Republican in the Senate.
In 1970, Goodell got both the GOP and Liberal Party nominations, and faced liberal Democrat Richard Ottinger. This left a huge vacuum into which Conservative Party candidate James Buckley, brother of William F., smartly moved.
Assessing the field, the Nixon White House concluded that, with liberals split, Goodell could not win. But Buckley might. Signals were flashed north that loyalty to the president was not inconsistent with voting for Buckley. To send the signal in the clear, Vice President Agnew described Charlie Goodell to a New Orleans newspaper as "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party."
The former George Jorgensen, Christine had undergone the most radical sex-change operation in recorded history.
Liberals went berserk, calling on New Yorkers to rally to Goodell, who began surging, at Ottinger's expense. Buckley scooted between them both to win. Hoffman may also. But even if he does not, Palin, a conservative of the heart, did the right thing.
And the GOP has been sent a necessary message.
For, according to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans now identify as conservatives -- only 20 percent as Republicans. If the GOP is not the conservative party, it will never be America's Party.
But what does "conservative" mean in 2009? And where do conservatives come down on the great issues? For what the right is against -- any repeal of the Bush tax cuts, the $787 billion stimulus, Obamacare -- is much clearer than what the right stands for.
In 2010, this may not matter, as the Obamakins rule the roost and will be held accountable, and Republicans can unite around what they oppose. Year 2012, however, is problematic.
Then the party must declare itself. And the reality is that the GOP remains a house divided.
What, for example, is the conservative view of the war in Iraq and the Bush economic policies that cost the party both Houses of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008?
Why did President Bush leave with 27 percent approval? Did Bush policies the GOP once applauded have anything to do with it?
Was Bush free trade responsible for the decline of the dollar and the loss of one in four manufacturing jobs? Is globalization still good for America and NAFTA the deal of the century?
What is the conservative position on reaching out to Russia, as BarackObama has done, on bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, and on canceling that anti-missile system Bush planned in Poland?
"We're all Georgians now!" John McCain declared. Are we?
What is the party position on a "long war" in Afghanistan?
For if America has soured on the war and opposes more troops today, will America be enthusiastic about soldiering on in 2012, after 1,000 or 2,000 more American dead have been shipped home?
Do Republicans support negotiating with Tehran, or cutting off gasoline and starting up the escalator to air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities that are today under U.N. inspection?
Will the GOP propose to stimulate the economy with tax cuts after four straight trillion-dollar deficits? Will the Bush line, "They'll pay for themselves," still be credible after Bush's deficits?
If the largest federal outlays are for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense and interest on the debt, followed by education, housing, homeland security and transportation, where would the GOP use the knife to balance the budget?
According to Gallup, America is moving closer to the Republican position on regulations, abortion, guns and union power. But half of all Americans now favor cuts in legal immigration. Are Republicans willing to call for a moratorium on immigration to tighten the labor market and force wages up? Or does the Chamber of Commerce still call the tune?
Ronald Reagan arrived with new ideas that fit the needs of his time. Where are the Republican ideas that fit the needs of this time?