Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
On Tuesday, Rick Lazio, the once-popular moderate GOP congressman from Long Island, lost his bid to become the Republicans' nominee for governor of New York. Lazio will still appear on the ballot on the Conservative Party line, but crazy, racist upstate millionaire businessman Carl Paladino will be the New York GOP's choice to take on state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. This is both appropriate and scary.
It's appropriate because Lazio wasn't much better than Paladino on what became (sigh) the key issue of the primary race. During the campaign, Lazio, like Paladino, focused much of his attention on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," a community and worship center that a group of moderate Muslims want to build two blocks away from the site of the September 11 attacks. (Adam Weinstein has more on all that here.) The two GOPers were basically competing to see who could better stomp on the Constitution.
Lazio referred to the project as a "trophy mosque" (implying all Muslims were responsible for 9/11) and of course claimed his opposition was "not about religion." After all, he said, "There are many places for Muslims to pray throughout the city." (Why should Muslims be able to pray on private property that they own? It's not like this is America or something.) "But this site here is so close to Ground Zero," he said, adding that "it is sacred ground." Cuomo, to his credit, has rejected Lazio's calls that he "investigate" the planners and funders of the so-called mosque. The "mosque" stuff is a disgusting, hateful business, and a more courageous Republican candidate wouldn't have participated in it. I suspect Lazio wasn't lying when he said his position on the issue was "not about religion." Of course it wasn't—it was about politics, and trying to convince a radicalized, rump New York GOP to nominate him. How'd that work out for you, Rick?
So there are a lot of reasons not to feel sorry for Lazio. But despite the mosque demagoguery, Lazio's defeat is also a bit frightening. Earlier this year, I (like many others) was convinced that a solid GOP election season would mean the return of the near-extinct Northeastern moderate Republican. (Lazio was once one of these legendary beasts.) Boy, was that wrong. What's happened instead is that tea partiers have primaried moderate Republicans all over the place. Rep. Mike Castle lost his race in Delaware Tuesday night. Lazio got crushed. Former Connecticut Rep. Rob Simmons lost to WWE mogul Linda McMahon in Connecticut. Former Rep. Charlie Bass was nearly primaried out of his bid to regain his old seat in New Hampshire. The list goes on—and pollsters, looking forward, see that moderate Maine Republican Olympia Snowe looks incredibly vulnerable to a potential challenge from the right in 2012.