FOX News talk show host Glenn Beck has been a thorn in the side of the White House.
But - thanks to the smug stupidity of GOP sachems in Washington - he could become President Obama's most important ally.
Political soothsayers will be studying the returns Tuesday from Virginia and New Jersey for omens that could predict the outcome of the midterm elections next year. But the race with the greatest national implications is for the House seat in upstate New York because of what it portends for the relationship between the Washington GOP establishment and an increasingly restive base.
Republicans have held the seat for 100 years. With public opinion turning against Democrats, it should have been easy to retain it.
But local GOP bosses botched that when they selected DeDe Scozzafava as their candidate. Ms. Scozzafava is to the left of the Democrat in the race. She's for abortion and gay marriage, backed the stimulus bill every Republican in the House voted against and supports "card check," which effectively would abolish the secret ballot in union elections.
The Washington GOP establishment quickly lined up behind Ms. Scozzafava. The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her behalf.
But the locals haven't been eager to support someone who is clearly a Republican In Name Only. Hence the candidacy of businessman Doug Hoffman, running on the Conservative Party line.
Mr. Hoffman was languishing in third place until he was endorsed by Sarah Palin. That triggered a flood of contributions and a rash of other endorsements.
"Polling and conversations with those close to the contest on both sides suggest it is now a two-person race between Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens, with Scozzafava fading badly," the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote Tuesday.
Proof that Mr. Hoffman has the momentum is that both the Democratic and Republican political committees are running ads attacking him.
That the NRCC would attack the conservative is one of the reasons why, according to a Rasmussen poll last week, 73 percent of GOP voters think congressional Republicans have lost touch with them.
GOP big shots frequently act as if they were embarrassed by their base.
"Many top Republicans are growing worried that the party's chances for reversing its electoral routs of 2006 and 2008 are being wounded by the flamboyant rhetoric and angry tone of conservative activists and media personalities," Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen of Politico wrote last week. "Tea Party Activists Complicate Republican Comeback Strategy," said a Wall Street Journal headline Oct. 16.
Beltway Republicans have things backward. A Gallup poll released Monday indicated 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as conservatives, up three percentage points from last year.
In a Rasmussen poll last month, only 32 percent described themselves as Republicans, down from 33 percent in July. Voters see the GOP as insufficiently principled, not as overly conservative.
District 23 in New York indicates why. The Beltway big shots chose expediency over principle by backing Ms. Scozzafava in the first place. They've compounded it by continuing to attack Mr. Hoffman now that it is clear only he has a chance to defeat the Democrat.
This plays into the hands of Mr. Beck, who has long maintained there are no significant differences between Democrats and Republicans. He'd like to see a conservative third party started nationally, a step which would guarantee the re-election of President Obama and continued Democratic control of Congress, no matter how unpopular they become.
But the mess in New York 23 has caused even Rush Limbaugh, who understands well the folly of third-party movements, to declare: "The Republican Party as constituted is as dangerous to this country as the Democrat Party is."
The Republican Party may be saved from its "leaders" by the woman they love to hate. The Beltway Brahmins can't stand Sarah Palin because she isn't one of them, doesn't aspire to be one of them, and isn't afraid of them.
If Mr. Hoffman wins, Sarah Palin will deserve the lion's share of the credit. She made her bones in Alaska politics by taking on a smug, corrupt, complacent GOP establishment and beating it.
A larger reform opportunity beckons.