When Pat Toomey first announced his intention to challenge Arlen Specter in the 2010 Republican primary in Pennsylvania, the national GOP acted as though he had passed gas in church.  Sotto voce, they tried to push the notion that Toomey was too conservative to win in Pennsylvania, and even after Specter flipped to the Democrats, Republicans tried getting moderates like Tom Ridge to challenge Toomey.  Now, however, Politico reports that the national party has decided that Toomey’s brand of fiscal conservatism might be just what they  need:

There was a time earlier this year when Republican Pat Toomey was the skunk at the Republican establishment party, a conservative gadfly whose prospective primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter seemed to jeopardize GOP control of the seat.

Even after Specter switched to the Democratic Party in April, party leaders continued to dismiss Toomey’s chances and looked elsewhere for a 2010 nominee.

Today, however, the party is gradually falling in line behind his bid, setting aside reservations about his electability and getting accustomed to the idea of the former Club for Growth president as the GOP Senate nominee.

It’s something of a shotgun marriage, but it’s an idea that the party is growing increasingly comfortable with.

“I haven’t heard that anybody else is running,” said Bob Asher, the influential Pennsylvania Republican National Committeeman who chaired John McCain’s presidential campaign in the state. “I fully expect to support the endorsed Republican candidate, and I fully expect that to be former Congressman Pat Toomey.”

To paraphrase Major Garrett, what took them so long?  Toomey didn’t just come out of nowhere.  He won an election to Congress in a district best described as moderate, replacing a retiring Democratic incumbent and beating another popular Democrat by ten points.  He won re-election twice afterwards, until he kept his promise to limit himself to three terms in the House.  The notion that Toomey would only appeal to the Republican base has no evidence, other than the fears among Specter apologists.

And am I the only one who thinks that a “shotgun marriage” between the GOP and the Club for Growth says more about the national Republican Party than it does about Toomey?  I think Politico’s Alex Isenstadt hits the nail on the head, after watching the gyrations in the national GOP after Toomey’s bid attracted wide support and forced Specter to switch parties for his political survival.  Instead of embracing free-market conservatism and one of its most articulate defenders, Republicans panicked and tried the kind of politicians that spent like drunken sailors to oppose Toomey and doom his Senate bid.

Now that the Obama administration and the Democrats have embarked on what can only be called Extreme Government Spending, the GOP has belatedly awakened to its best opportunity: to find reliable, trustworthy fiscal conservatives to rebuild its credibility and provide a brake to massive irresponsibility on Capitol Hill.  Instead of fearing Toomey, the party should have embraced him from the beginning — and sought out more like him.  Let’s hope they’ve begun to get the message that 2010 will be about the economy, the deficit, and insane levels of spending.