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The Departure of Arlen Specter
& the Return to Unifying Republican Principles

Commenting on social conservatives gloating over Arlen Specter’s decision to switch parties, moderate Republican blogger Dennis Sanders suggests that “they probably have resigned the GOP to a rump status,” warning “you can be an ideologically pure party or you can be a majority party, but you can’t be both.”  He’s onto something here.

Yes, Republican needs moderates to reach a majority, but those who see Specter’s departure as a sign of the GOP abandoning moderates ignore the peculiarities of the Pennsylvania Senator’s persona and career.  He has never been much of a party loyalist, using the Republican Party as a platform to get elected, but doing little to help build the party in the Keystone State.  As Bruce put it, except in the years he was running for reelection, “he would just melt into the Washington Elite.

The GOP did its utmost to keep Specter.  In 2004, then-President Bush and his then-fellow Republican Senator Rick Santorum campaigned for him in the Republican primary.  After the 2004 elections, despite attempts from conservatives to remove him as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, his Senate GOP colleagues kept him in place, with a number of conservatives (including notably Hugh Hewitt) supporting the move.  Just last month, Texas Senator John Cornyn chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) “sent a fund-raising plea on behalf of” his Pennsylvania colleague.  This was after Specter had voted for the spendthrift “stimulus.”

It’s not so much that the party was moving too far to the right, but that Specter sought political salvation in the party that’s moving even further to the left.

While some say Republicans have been taken over by social conservatives, Glenn Reynolds, himself a libertarian, just doesn’t see the GOP’s shift to the right on social issues.  Perhaps, people see such a shift because the party, until recently, had abandoned its small government ways, allowing social issues to appear as the issue which distinguished Republicans from Democrats.

The issue isn’t so much the GOP, but the way the MSM portrays the party.  In a must-read post, Dan Riehl nails it:

But I think the real shift has been cultural and in media. For espousing ideas that were reasonably mainstream during the Reagan Era, one is promptly labeled a religious kook today. While the Republicans have been and remain the more socially conservative party, the Left has been effective in their demonizing of that aspect, especially every time a social conservative Republican goes astray with a hooker, or in a men’s room, for instance. Lastly, televangelists and some notable moderate Republicans have helped demonize this over time, too.

Like former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dan sees this as “significant opportunity but only if the GOP seizes upon it as a pivot point to genuinely become the party of limited government, reduced spending and low taxes.”  As Gingrich puts it, this makes “the 2010 and 2012 elections an even clearer choice of two directions for America.

The fact that Bush and Santorum stood behind Specter in 2004, that a majority of Senate Republicans stood behind him after that fall’s elections, that Cornyn was prepared to stand behind for next year’s contest suggests that GOP leaders do not maintain a litmus test for party membership or leadership.

That said, Arlen Specter was anything but a supporter of the broad unifying principles of the GOP which his Maine colleague Olympia Snowe outlined in commenting on his switch:

Ultimately, we should, as President Reagan urged, “emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus tests’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty.” We must heed these words to rebuild our party.

Exactly.  Specter’s switch just might make it easier for us to emphasize those principles.  At least that’s what I hope.



  1. What do Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina all have in common?

    They are all “moderate” Democrats. Some commenters here really love “moderates.” So, presuming that the Democrats have a filibuster proof majority, we can now watch the “moderates” temper the leftist whims. After all, a bunch of Democrat moderates is only slightly to the left of a bunch of Republican moderates.

    The day belongs to the moderates! Hooray! Salvation is at hand. I named 11 Democrat Senators and maybe you can add Specter to make them an even dozen. Wow! The “gang of 12” can virtually dominate legislation. Yea, moderates!!! Or, not.

    Comment by heliotrope — April 29, 2009 @ 5:42 pm - April 29, 2009

  2. Dan, if anything, Arlen Specter is the epitome of everything voters have come to hate about the GOP – the desperate grasping for power and the complete rejection of the principles the Republicans claims to stand for.

    Instead of blaming the usual suspects (Rush, Hannity, Levin, true conservative Republicans etc), RINOS should pin the blame on the politicians who care more about their political careers than the people they are supposed to be representing.

    Some politicos suffer from “Battered Republican Syndrome” – they cling to liberals like Specter hoping some day the betrayals will stop. My advice? Get over it. If the Republicans are going to prosper as a political party, they must offer a consistent conservative alternative.

    Luckily, they are doing so regarding Gitmo right now:

    Here’s hoping their second testicle descends soon.

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — April 29, 2009 @ 6:46 pm - April 29, 2009

  3. Now all we need is a few more RINOs actually moving to the Democrats and then the Republicans will be a pure party un fettered by left leaning, socialists.

    If there is a God.

    Comment by VegasTeaRoom — April 29, 2009 @ 6:52 pm - April 29, 2009

  4. Now all we need is a few more RINOs actually moving to the Democrats and then the Republicans will be a pure party unable to gain a majority in Congress for years to come.

    Comment by sonicfrog — April 29, 2009 @ 7:31 pm - April 29, 2009

  5. Now all we need is a few more RINOs actually moving to the Democrats and then the Republicans will be a fiscally conservative party able to offer the American people a clear and credible alternative, the Reagan formula for victory.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — April 29, 2009 @ 7:57 pm - April 29, 2009

  6. Agree with 1 and 3 above, bye bye RINOs and back to the party of Reagan that stands for free markets and free individuals…..

    Comment by Left Coast Rebel — April 29, 2009 @ 9:12 pm - April 29, 2009

  7. Perhaps Arlen Specter (and maybe Olympia Snowe?) will make Republicans wake up and realize their nastiness only worked while they were the majority in both houses. They all seem to have simply picked up McCain’s presidential campaign strategy and saying the other side is bad, but offering no real solutions to help fix and/or deal with the problems in this country.

    PS – How’s that “eternal flame” doing? (that arrogant little memorial put up by Republican Senators because they won the majority of congress in ’94) guess eternity didn’t turn out to be as long as they thought it would.

    Comment by Kevin — April 29, 2009 @ 10:58 pm - April 29, 2009

  8. Wait for 2012 and 2014 for all those conservative Democrats in Red states to be up for re election. Obamas chicken are gonna come home to roost sooner rather than later. I remember during the Reagan years how many blue dog Democrats jumped ship. It’s self preservation. And crass politics. All these bumms get used to the good life as a pampered Congress person. None of em want to go back home and be a regular guy.

    Comment by Gene on Pennsylvania — April 29, 2009 @ 11:03 pm - April 29, 2009

  9. I believe Glenn is wrong. Ask yourself this – who was the leader of the fiscal side of the Republican party in the 90’s? If anyone can be named, it was Newt. He was the driving force behind the budget standoff between Congress and Clinton. And what did he get for his efforts? He was forced out of the Speakership, and decided to leave the congress altogether after the mutiny staged by backbenchers Steve Largent, Lindsey Graham, Mark Souder, as well as Dick Armey John Boehner, Bill Paxon, and Majority Whip Tom Delay. Two things they all have in common – all are very strong social conservatives, and all, especially Delay, are definitely NOT fiscal conservatives. Ever since then the party has promoted and followed a social conservative agenda, at the expense of fiscal responsibility.

    After the coup, there were no more prominent fiscal Republicans that could challenge the social side of the party. The Clinton / Lewinski scandal only strengthened their grip on the party. Then we get to the selection of G.W. Bush. His main challenger John McCaine, was a much stronger fiscal hawk than Bush, yet he lost any chance to get the nomination after the religious right questioned whether McCain was Christian enough. After his election, Bush did pass the tax cuts, but most of his agenda time and time again favored social conservatism over fiscal conservatism. What ever happened to the promise to end base line budgeting????

    Then we get 9/11. After that, any notion of fiscal conservatives gaining any foothold in the party was lost. The Republicans, myself included, went right along when Cheney said that deficits don’t matter.

    What were the major Republican accomplishments or attempts there of, after Newt was kicked to the side of the road?

    * Block federal aid to foreign aid groups, not due to budgetary concerns, but based on the group”s stance on abortion views.

    * Giving money to Faith -Based Community groups. Of course when Obama does the same for non-faith -based community groups, well, that’s outrageous!!!!!

    * Partial Birth Abortion Act.

    * Federal Marriage Amendment.

    * Fought against states where voters approved such things as death with dignity (Oregon) and medical marijuana (California). So much for states rights.

    * Banned use of Fed money for embryonic stem cell research, again, not based on monetary concerns, but on religious principles.

    * Tried to pass flag burning constitutional amendment… several times.

    * And my personal favorite – the Tom Delay led Veggi Girl fiasco. Congress couldn’t find the time to balance a budget, but could get their asses out of bed in the middle of the night to try and interfere with the personal family drama revolving around the brain dead Terri Schiavo. And why was that??? Because of the damned dominance of the right to lifers in congress, who used the Schiavo case as a proxy to fight against abortion.

    As I’ve said before, this is a classic opportunity cost issue. The more energy the conservatives placed on social concerns, the less resources of both money and effort would be spent on financial matters. Face the facts, the social conservatives cannot and will not play second fiddle to fiscal conservatives. Why do you think guys like Steve Forbes or Bill Simon couldn’t get elected Republican dog catcher. Why do you think George Bush won two presidential races, while the more fiscally proven McCain never swayed the base of the party. Why do you think the Republicans did all they could to brush Ron Paul, probably the best fiscal conservative they had in 2008, off to the side. Why do you think Mitt Romney, the other true fiscal sound candidate in 2008, didn’t get support from the base, until it was obvious that McCain (the less social conservative) was likely to win? I’ll give you a hint – many Christians don’t consider Mormons to be Christians. For the base of the party, religious concerns and the culture wars trump all other aspect of life and governance, including fiscal policy. Everything else takes a back seat.

    The reason the Republicans lost their way fiscally was NOT because the moderates were in control for the last twelve years, it lost all credibility because the social conservatives have hijacked the party.

    I’m blogging this.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — April 30, 2009 @ 3:08 am - April 30, 2009

  10. spam

    Comment by Sonicfrog — April 30, 2009 @ 3:52 am - April 30, 2009

  11. […] era. That is the assertion by some in the bloggisphere. I believe both Glenn and my good friends at Gay Patriot are […]

    Pingback by » A Historical Perspective Of Conservative “Right Wing”ness — April 30, 2009 @ 5:30 am - April 30, 2009

  12. #5 – “How’s that “eternal flame” doing? (that arrogant little memorial put up by Republican Senators because they won the majority of congress in ‘94)”

    I’ve never heard of such a thing. Got proof? If not, I call BS on that remark.

    And funny – the Dhimmicrat Congress just passed a trillion-dollar-memorial to themselves and we will probably spend eternity just paying for it. Yet you make no comment about that.


    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — April 30, 2009 @ 11:02 am - April 30, 2009

  13. What I haven´t been able to understand is how Pennsylvania has gone so quickly from red to blue. How could a state that had a real conservative in the Senate in the person of Rick Santorum, with Arlen carrying the Republican banner, and a Republican governor, Tom Ridge. Now both senators are Democrats as is the governor. Comments in todáy´s Bucks County Courier Times were supportive of Specter´s decision. When I lived in Bucks Co. it was staunchly Republican. You had to search real hard to find a Democrat.

    Comment by Roberto — April 30, 2009 @ 12:34 pm - April 30, 2009

  14. The Dhimmicrats had their ideological fight (liberal bloggers like Markos Moulitsas fought off those who wanted to “moderate” their party, i.e. Joe Lieberman) – and the same thing is happening in the GOP today.

    Better late than never.

    2010 = A GOP Congress

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — April 30, 2009 @ 2:25 pm - April 30, 2009

  15. but offering no real solutions to help fix and/or deal with the problems in this country.

    I’m dying to know when the party in power is going to come up with real solutions to the sh*t sandwich they made.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — April 30, 2009 @ 2:38 pm - April 30, 2009

  16. It is definitely an interesting issue and it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds but, while Dan is agreeing with her, I think it’s also worth noting the rest of what Sen. Snowe said (who, like Specter, has often been accused of being a RINO):

    It illustrates not just the state of Pennsylvania politics but a larger problem within our party. With Sen. Jim Jeffords’s decision to become an independent in 2001, followed by defeats in 2006 (when I last ran) and additional losses in 2008 — elections that claimed 51 Republicans in the House and 13 in the Senate — we are headed toward having one of the smallest political tents in generations. We simply cannot expand a majority by shrinking the ideological confines of our party.

    Not that it’s worth much, but I happen to agree with that. Just as the Democrats have been moving leftward the Republicans have been moving further to the right. That’s not good, IMO, for either party.

    We have voted for moderate Republicans running for DC city council because they offered a check against the Democrats (and some of the Ds running for city council here are true morons — Marion Barry as a perfect example). But, while I know you guys disagree, my husband and I strongly feel that, on the whole, the GOP has been terrible on gay issues and has used them as a wedge. There are certainly exceptions. I would bet that McCain is personally much more comfortable with gay marriage than Obama is — not that either would say it publicly. And I think Bush was no worse (and, arguably, perhaps better) for gays than Clinton. But when it comes to some of the leaders of the GOP, like Gingrich and Steele… it is not encouraging.

    I think the litmus tests that BOTH parties are imposing on their candidates is terrible. Ideological purity is a nice idea — it was a huge strength of the GOP from 94 through 02 or 04 — until you find out the guy sitting next to you feels differently about The Big Issue Of The Day. That’s the trouble I think the GOP is having now. You can make your club that much more exclusive, but exclusivity has a price.

    Comment by CR — April 30, 2009 @ 8:18 pm - April 30, 2009

  17. I, for one, would like to see the Party being absolutely socially and fiscally conservative. A monolith if you will. As long as there are defections and purges a monolith will be achieved. Then we will go from being a big tent to being a small umbrella and our conventions will be held in a telephone booth. I learned from Jim Jeffords defection the value of an ¨R¨. It drove home the point that me late political mentor, Al Vaber, made, I prefer a Republican who votes with us 30% of the time to Democrat who votes with zero percent of the time.

    Comment by Roberto — May 1, 2009 @ 5:13 pm - May 1, 2009

  18. ROFLOL.

    Neither party can get to a majority without moderates. So please, run off all the moderates from your party and enjoy watching the political process from the sidelines.

    Comment by Houndentenor — May 2, 2009 @ 8:54 am - May 2, 2009

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