THE GREAT PURGE…. In a district represented by a Republican lawmaker in every election since the Civil War, the national Republican Party not only endorsed the consensus choice of local GOP leaders in the special election in New York’s 23rd, they also invested $1 million last month. Yesterday, on the verge of an embarrassing third-place defeat, she quit.

The right-wing inmates have decided it’s their asylum now, and they’re just getting started.

Republican Dede Scozzafava’s decision Saturday to drop out of the New York special congressional election gave conservatives a big win, but may present a challenge for Republicans heading into next year’s mid-term elections. […]

The message from national and New York conservatives is unambiguous, though: This was an angry, energized base telling the national party that an anything-for-a-majority approach by GOP leaders is unacceptable. They are serious and deeply concerned about what’s going on in Washington.

While the Empire State’s unique ballot rules and a Republican candidate to the left of the GOP mainstream helped open the door for Hoffman’s unlikely run, the national effect of this race may be to embolden more conservatives to take on party establishment-approved candidates who don’t toe the ideological line.

And so the new phase of The Great Purge begins.

“I think it will empower tea party activists to look for moderate scalps in other districts,” fretted one senior GOP strategist with national campaign experience. “The question is, Will we go through a period in the party where a great purge begins?” this strategist asked.

Hasn’t it already? Scozzafava was a respected local Republican, with a record slightly to the right of most GOP state lawmakers in New York, but she was deemed insufficiently conservative. Sen. Arlen Specter was a Republican senator for nearly three decades, but he was deemed insufficiently conservative. Gov. Charlie Crist is supposed to be a rising GOP star from the nation’s largest swing state, but his future is in doubt because he’s been deemed insufficiently conservative. Eight House Republicans supported energy reform in July, and the base has targeted them for retribution. Newt Gingrich, for reasons I’ve never understood, is considered one of the GOP’s great idea men. But the Tea Party/wingnut crowd has turned on him, too.

When Newt Gingrich is too moderate, and trying to pull the Republican Party closer to the American mainstream, it’s safe to say there’s something deeply wrong.

It’s also safe to say the national Republican Party, which has suffered consecutive electoral failures and has seen its brand deteriorate further this year, has a problem for which there is no obvious solution.

Frank Rich reflected today on the right’s Jacobins:

The right’s embrace of Hoffman is a double-barreled suicide for the G.O.P. On Saturday, the battered Scozzafava suspended her campaign, further scrambling the race. It’s still conceivable that the Democratic candidate could capture a seat the Republicans should own. But it’s even better for Democrats if Hoffman wins. Punch-drunk with this triumph, the right will redouble its support of primary challengers to 2010 G.O.P. candidates they regard as impure. That’s bad news for even a Republican as conservative as Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose primary opponent in the Texas governor’s race, the incumbent Rick Perry, floated the possibility of secession at a teabagger rally in April and hastily endorsed Hoffman on Thursday.

The more rightists who win G.O.P. primaries, the greater the Democrats’ prospects next year…. Though [Beck, Palin and their acolytes] constantly liken the president to various totalitarian dictators, it is they who are re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode. They drove out Arlen Specter, and now want to “melt Snowe” (as the blog Red State put it). The same Republicans who once deplored Democrats for refusing to let an anti-abortion dissident, Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, speak at the 1992 Clinton convention now routinely banish any dissenters in their own camp.

The opportunity for Democrats is obvious. The majority party, fearful of the electoral consequences of a struggling economy, has found new reason for optimism: a Republican Party in which night-wing nihilists are deliberately driving moderates from the party ranks.

“During August, Republicans thought they’d be able to harness the energy of the far-right, but the opposite has happened,” DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen said. “The far-right, tea-bag party is leading their Republican Party around by the nose.”

The message for Democratic strategists writes itself. DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse explained, “The true leaders of the Republican Party like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Tim Pawlenty have said to all moderates and independents: ‘When it comes to being part of our party, you need not apply.’” DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer added, “The Republican Party’s extreme right wing ideologues sent a chilling message to the few remaining moderate Republican Members and candidates: moderates are not welcome in the Republican Party and differing opinions will not be tolerated.”

Ironically, Dems may have some help getting the word out. Party leaders will spend the next year arguing, “Moderates aren’t welcome in the Republican Party.”

To which conservatives will reply, “You’re damn right, they’re not.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.