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Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Movement Are at War With the GOP

Just as the GOP candidate has for more than 100 years, Dede Scozzafava was supposed to win the congressional seat in New York's 23rd district. Then Palin stepped in.

Tomorrow, a special election in an otherwise obscure congressional district has become very special indeed.

This weekend, the Republican candidate in the race for New York's 23rd congressional district was forced out -- by Republicans. The contest to fill a seat vacated by President Barack Obama's appointment of Republican Rep. John McHugh to the post of secretary of the Army has become a proxy war for a power struggle for the leadership of the Republican Party.

On one side is the party establishment: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Georgia), Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who endorsed Dede Scozzafava, the candidate selected by the local Republican Party.

On the other, we find Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and former vice presidential candidate, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, and former Majority Leader from Texas Dick Armey, who are backing third-party challenger Doug Hoffman.

Once the muscle of Palin and Armey forced Scozzafava from the race on Saturday, she refused to play nice. Instead of backing Palin's pick, Scozzafava threw her support yesterday to Democrat Bill Owens.

Inside the Congress, Republicans are all about party loyalty and message discipline. But outside the Congress, on the home turf where congressional representatives win or lose, not so much -- at least not in the 23rd district of the state of New York.

While it's hard not to crack a smile at the Republicans' travails, a word of caution may be in order.

So Much for Local Control

The gurus of the Republican Party's right flank like to talk about local control and small government. They claim to represent the grassroots, the regular folks. They like to paint the Democratic president of the United States as a machine politician.

But when push came to shove and the regular people of 23rd, backed up by the GOP establishment, appeared poised to elect the pro-choice, pro-union Scozzafava, the Tea Party astroturf machine moved in, backing Hoffman, who promised pro-business, anti-woman and anti-labor votes in Congress.

Tomorrow, after the people of the upstate district conclude their balloting, either Owens, the Democrat, or Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, will be the first non-Republican to represent the 23rd since the Civil War.

Although Hoffman's candidacy seemed to come out of nowhere, it was the endorsement of Armey, chairman of the astroturfing group FreedomWorks, who put him on the map. Then Palin signed on via this note on her Facebook page, putting Hoffman over the top:

Political parties must stand for something. When Republicans were in the wilderness in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan knew that the doctrine of "blurring the lines" between parties was not an appropriate way to win elections. Unfortunately, the Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race. This is why Doug Hoffman is running on the Conservative Party's ticket.

Soon Hoffman was Glenn Beck's favorite interview subject. (The local chapter of Beck's 9-12 Project is a big Hoffman booster.) Tea Party sites around the nation started talking up the Hoffman candidacy and condemning Scozzafava. The Club for Growth had found its candidate. Michelle Malkin, the Fox News commentator whom AlterNet last met at an astroturf event, threw in.

And don't forget the pundits of another media property owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.: those of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

If this cast of characters sounds familiar, it should. These are the same forces who organized the disinformation and thuggery campaign against health care reform, and are many of the same personalities who created the right-wing Tea Party march on Washington on Sept. 12 -- the one with all those "Don't Tread on Me" flags and the signs comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin.