Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter is a man of principle who, no longer able to abide the rightward drift of the Republican Party, made the difficult decision to abandon it in favor of the Democratic Party, with which he is more ideologically aligned. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter is a political mercenary who, faced with a tough re-election primary next year, abandoned his political home of almost 30 years, not to mention the many voters and contributors who supported him.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter is a man of principle who, no longer able to abide the rightward drift of the Republican Party, made the difficult decision to abandon it in favor of the Democratic Party, with which he is more ideologically aligned.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter is a political mercenary who, faced with a tough re-election primary next year, abandoned his political home of almost 30 years, not to mention the many voters and contributors who supported him.
This may be one of those rare political stories in which everyone is right.
Specter, a five-term senator, has indeed become an increasingly uncomfortable fit over the years with the GOP. The most recent example: He was one of just three congressional Republicans to vote for the president’s stimulus package.
But he says he didn’t so much leave his party as the other way around.
That may be so figuratively — the big tent has been shrinking these past eight years — but it is quite clear who is the leaver in this episode and who is the leave-ee.
“This is a very serious act of betrayal,” former Pennsylvania Congressman Pat Toomey told Sean Hannity the night of Specter’s announcement. “I mean, he’s been, at least nominally a Republican for 30 years, taken Republican contributions, taken Republican support ... .”
And after we gave Arlen the best years of our life, you can almost hear Toomey say.
Of course, Toomey is the person who had planned to challenge Specter in next year’s primary (and may now face him in the general election) so he’s not about to paint the senator’s decision as anything other than political perfidy. Specter’s former Senate colleagues, however, offered diverging views on his departure. Some mirrored Toomey’s assessment; others turned the mirror on themselves. The two schools of thought were:
Specter the Opportunist: “Sen. Specter’s decision today represents the height of political self-preservation,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Specter the Symbol: “If the Republican Party fully intends to become a majority party in the future, it must move from the far right back toward the middle,” said Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of the party’s few remaining moderates.
The significance of Specter’s defection goes beyond armchair political junkies. He brings to 59 the number of senators who are either Democrats (57) or regularly vote with them (two). Which means should soon-to-be-former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman acknowledge reality and concede his razor-thin loss to Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota (he won’t), or should the Minnesota Supreme Court affirm all lower court rulings and declare Franken the winner (it will) and the election certificate be signed by Republican Gov. Tim Paw-lenty (he’d better), the Democrats would have a conceivable 60 votes. This is the magic number needed to block filibusters — a strategy being used with increasing frequency by the outnumbered Republicans.
In fairness, the Democrats also overused this option when they were in the minority — usually to block votes on judicial nominees. Thwarting the will of the majority was no more palatable then. But Republicans have be resorting to it far more broadly.
Specter says he won’t be an automatic, filibuster-defusing Democratic vote. That’s not the best way to inure yourself to your new party, but it does reflect Specter’s independent streak.
Can a politician succeed with a new party? History may offer some clues. Joseph Lieberman left the Democrats to run as an independent in 2006 and remains a key player in the Senate. Ronald Reagan was a New Deal Democrat before joining to the GOP in 1962 and he went on to quite a bit of success. Jim McGreevey was the married Democratic governor of New Jersey in 2004 before he ... well, it wasn’t parties he switched, exactly, and his career ended abruptly.
But two out of three isn’t bad odds.
So Specter embarks on a new political chapter and it just goes to show how funny politics is. He’s a septuagenarian who has had health problems and is a touch ornery. Last year, that was the Republican standard bearer; this year, the Democratic difference-maker.
Messenger managing editor Kevin Frisch can be contacted at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.