Allahpundit has done a great job of covering Arlen Specter’s rather unsurprising switch to the Democratic Party today, but we’ve already seen a meme arise that blames Republicans for not embracing Specter warmly enough. Lindsay Graham went so far as to blame Pat Toomey for daring to challenge Specter in a primary, and apparently for being so much more popular among Specter’s constituents that an incumbent Senator fell 21 points behind a primary challenger.
David Frum writes, reasonably enough, that the Republicans can’t govern without crafting a majority party, but picks the wrong poster child:
The Specter defection is too severe a catastrophe to qualify as a “wake-up call.” His defection is the thing we needed the wake-up call to warn us against! For a long time, the loudest and most powerful voices in the conservative world have told us that people like Specter aren’t real Republicans – that they don’t belong in the party. Now he’s gone, and with him the last Republican leverage within any of the elected branches of government.
For years, many in the conservative world have wished for an ideologically purer GOP. Their wish has been granted. Happy?
Let’s take this moment to nail some colors to the mast. I submit it is better for conservatives to have 60% sway within a majority party than to have 100% control of a minority party. And until and unless there is an honored place made in the Republican party for people who think like Arlen Specter, we will remain a minority party.
I’ll take exception to both the “catastrophe” and the idea that we lost any influence in Congress at all. First, Specter made it clear with his vote on Porkulus that he didn’t intend to stand for much of anything — except Arlen Specter. Republicans had been steamrolled on Porkulus, locked out of negotiations first by Nancy Pelosi and then by Barack Obama, who told Republicans, “I won.” Had Specter held firm on Porkulus, he would have forced Democrats to compromise on the stimulus package — and many Republicans wanted a reason to throw money at their constituents, but in a somewhat more effective manner. Instead, Specter back-doored his caucus, and then convinced Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to do the same.
Maybe that’s the reason Specter can’t get within 21 points of Toomey in a primary.
I agree with Frum that the GOP has to offer a big tent, and that we have to allow for some diversity of opinion on issues in order to build a coalition around core values. But what core values does Specter represent? What did his Porkulus vote tell us about his core values? He doesn’t support the social-issues positions of some conservatives, nor does he support fiscal constraint and responsibility. I’m looking for any corner of a Republican tent that could possibly cover where Specter stands, and I’m not seeing any. Taxes? He voted to water down the Bush tax cuts. Judges? Specter went along with the Borking of, well, Robert Bork. Specter in 1990 opposed parental notification on abortions — not consent, but notification.
But Porkulus is the real key. Even center-right and liberal Republicans in the House rejected it. More Democrats rejected Porkulus than Republicans voted to support it.
The surprise isn’t that Specter switched sides now; it’s that it took him this long to acknowledge reality. His constituents realized it before he did. It’s not Pat Toomey’s fault that Specter can’t touch him in a primary, and really, that’s why we didn’t lose any influence, either. If Specter couldn’t stay strong on Porkulus, which got a grand total of 3 Republican votes on Capitol Hill, he’s a lost cause already.
When push came to shove, Specter couldn’t even stand up for negotiation and compromise on Capitol Hill, opting instead to negotiate for himself. He’s not a fiscal stalwart, a social conservative, or a conservative on judges, and disloyal to boot. What exactly did we lose here?
Update: Corrected one sentence for clarity; thanks to commenter Count to 10 for pointing it out.