We’ve seen an inordinate amount of handwringing over the campaign of Douglas Hoffman in NY-23’s special election today, as some in the party have openly wondered whether conservatives will split into a third party for the 2010 general elections.  That consists entirely of empty speculation, as no one has even tried that — and the Hoffman example doesn’t apply as a precedent anyway.  Now, Politico reports that the hysteria in the GOP over conservatism has now made them scared of a perfectly normal and legitimate intraparty mechanism — the primary.  Either the GOP needs to get some testicular fortitude or Politico needs to dial down the hyperbole:

In what could be a nightmare scenario for Republican Party officials, conservative activists are gearing up to challenge leading GOP candidates in more than a dozen key House and Senate races in 2010.

Conservatives and tea party activists had already set their sights on some of the GOP’s top Senate recruits — a list that includes Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida, former Rep. Rob Simmons in Connecticut and Rep. Mark Kirk in Illinois, among others.

But their success in Tuesday’s upstate New York special election, where grass-roots efforts pushed GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava to drop out of the race and helped Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman surge into the lead on the eve of Election Day, has generated more money and enthusiasm than organizers ever imagined.

Activists predict a wave that could roll from California to Kentucky to New Hampshire and that could leave even some GOP incumbents — Utah Sen. Bob Bennett is one — facing unexpectedly fierce challenges from their right flank.

“I would say it’s the tip of the spear,” said Dick Armey, the former GOP House majority leader who now serves as chairman of FreedomWorks, an organization that has been closely aligned with the tea party movement. “We are the biggest source of energy in American politics today.”

“What you’re going to see,” said Armey, “is moderates and conservatives across the country in primaries.”

Oh, my goodness, it’s such an unprecedented “nightmare”!  Why, who would have guessed that more than one candidate might run in primaries?  That’s so wild, one has to dig far back into the memory banks to remember that  the GOP holds a primary in every normal election cycle for every political race.

Even the examples Politico uses are entirely laughable.  Charlie Crist, Rob Simmons, and Mark Kirk aren’t incumbents.  Crist and Kirk will run for open seats, while Simmons will try to pick off Chris Dodd.  Furthermore, Simmons is actually a conservative candidate; the other person running in that seat is Linda McMahon, wife of the wrestling impressario Vince McMahon, who’s also a conservative.  It may be one thing to mount a primary challenge against a well-established incumbent, but in races for open seats, it would be very strange not to have multiple candidates.  And Rubio, at least, has already said that he will support the winner of the primary in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Hoffman precedent is nothing of the sort.  The Conservative Party in New York is not a “third party” of the sort envisioned by Politico or hysterical Republicans.  They routinely endorse Republicans for office, much more often than they run their own candidate.  The reason Hoffman had to run on the CP ticket was because the special election didn’t allow for a primary, and the county GOP leaders didn’t have the sense to pick someone who didn’t win the Margaret Sanger Award, didn’t back Card Check, and didn’t back the stimulus spending bill that has already proven itself a very expensive flop.

In fact, primaries exist precisely to settle these kinds of questions.  They’re healthy exercises that allow people within the particular state or Congressional district to determine which kind of candidate represents their best interests and those of the party, rather than have party bosses handpick candidates without any kind of accountability.  That used to be called American democracy rather than being cast as the basis for the next Stephen King novel by hysterics within the party or hyperbolic journalists looking for a story.