What Specter’s Defection Means for California Republicans



Exhibit A for why the California Repo Party is doomed to minority status, at least for now: state GOP chairman Ron Nehring’s cut-off-your-nose declaration rejoicing in Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s decision to become a Democrat.

Nehring’s statement, issued Tuesday, shows that while CRP likes to declare itself a Ronald Reagan big-tent party, it’s actually captive to a red-meat, hard-right, conservative wing which demands ideological purity from its candidates before allowing them to represent the GOP in general elections.

Put aside Nehring’s insipid statement that Specter’s big switch from the R to the D column was “a poll-driven decision based purely on selfish interests.”

(OMG, you mean there’s politics in the Senate? OF COURSE, Specter’s decision was political: this is not a man known for unyielding principle. [Recall that Specter was the Warren Commission staff member who famously tried to explain away physical evidence in the JFK assassination with the “magic bullet” theory.] So he jumped when the right-wing jihadists, in the person of Club for Growth leader Pat Toomey, had him in their sights in the Pa. Senate GOP primary).

Stipulating his decision was poll-driven doesn’t negate the enormity of Specter’s crossover or what it says about the Republican Party nationally and – as Nehring clearly explains – in California.

“The Republican Party didn’t leave Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party some time ago,” Mr. Chairman said in his statement. “Arlen Specter decided on his own – no one forced him – to violate core Republican principles by voting for the wasteful $787 billion stimulus bill while every single House Republican, including California’s entire Republican delegation, voted with taxpayers in opposition instead.”

Warming to his task he added, “We’re extremely proud of our Republican members of Congress from California for consistently standing with taxpayers while Arlen Specter was busy implementing Barbara Boxer’s agenda.”

Here’s the problem with his logic: for six of the last eight years, the Republicans in Congress were the ones rolling up record deficits behind record government spending. None of the puristas among the skunk Specter crowd seemed too worried about excessive government spending when they held power.

As a political matter, the Reagan and beyond-era Republican Party was organized around three key core issues:

— Fiscal conservatism. The GOP’s low-tax, low-spending policies lost the second half of that equation, first in the Bush I, read-my-lips era, and then in the two terms of Bush II, where tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, coupled with massive spending on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, simply defied the law of gravity. And whether cause and effect or not, the fallout following eight years of tax cuts coupled with more spending – the global credit crunch, the collapse of the banking business and the routing of the stock market – have convinced the majority of Americans who support Obama’s fiscal policies that more Keynes and less Arthur Laffer is in order, at least for now.

— National security. The September 11 attacks gave Republicans new purchase on the issue of national security, which had been slipping away since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. But W’s adventurous war in Iraq, which increased the ranks of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists rather than reducing them, the stalemate in Afghanistan and the instability in nuclear Pakistan reframed the issue, so that Americans seem ready to give Obama’s diplomacy-first policies a chance.

— Cultural issues. The anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-gun control evangelical Christian wing of the Republican Party is virtually its only remaining core constituency. Besides reducing the GOP nationally to what is now essentially a Southern regional party, the moral certainty – i.e. intolerance of opposing views — of this Republican bloc seems to have become the fundamental dynamic now driving its politics.

Hence, the happy huzzahs from the Limbaugh-Hannity-Michael Steele set who applaud Specter’s defection, as if losing prominent party members holds the key to growing the party and returning it to majority status.

Nowhere in the country is there greater “devaluation of diversity,” as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, called it in a Wednesday NYT op-ed than within the California GOP. As she argues: “Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities.”

There would be no room for Arlen Specter in the California Republican Party, just as there is no room, really, for former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, who keeps tilting at windmills in his indefatigable efforts to win a statewide nomination.

It remains to be seen if the state GOP will allow itself to embrace former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and/or Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, Silicon Valley business moderates. Both are — shhh — pro-choice.

Oddly, the 2010 governor’s race could prove a turning point for the GOP: If no knuckle-dragging conservative candidate emerges to challenge two Silicon Valley Zschauists, perhaps the GOP will be forced to choose between candidates who might actually have a chance in a general election against a Democrat.

This won’t be because the party has signaled its readiness to accept the Arlen Specters of the world. It’ll be because Grand Old Party had no choice.

We’re just sayin’.

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There are 12 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    “IT’s A JUNGLE BACK THERE” – inside the DC Beltway! 😉 Is a separate commentary forthcoming in The Prez’ state of the Swine flu pandemic?

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    HEY, IT’s ALL ABOUT THE MATH! The Senator saw no way he could win the Republican primary, when the voters were crossing over — “NOTE WELL, GOLDEN STATERS” = under closed primary election controls — to the Democrats or non-partisans (indepen-dents). It’s NOT rocket science, yet!

  3. avatar Jon Fleischman says:

    Needless to say, I couldn’t disagree more with this BS line of reasoning.

    Arlen Specter’s decision was his own, and he chose to leave the GOP rather than have to explain to primary voters why he has wholeheartedly embraced the agenda of Barack Obama (supporting his massive porkulus plan, and now his huge budget).

    Clearly for a political party to become a majority party, it involves a combination of advancing its unique ideas and ideology that differentiates itself from the majority party, and yes, some tolerance and understanding that not every candidate and officeholder is going to agree with every tenant of the party’s platform.

    But Specter’s support of the hard-left agenda of this President is well beyond the pale. He knew it, and know that he would have trouble being re-nominated by Pennsylvania Republicans.

  4. avatar Brian Leubitz says:

    Jon, you are right. It is well beyond the pale. So far beyond the pale that nobody in America supports it. Well, some measly 60%, but what do they matter. They are just the people that you have to get to vote for your party.

    The fact is that the Republican Party has convinced itself that it can win by sticking to principles that can really only attract 30-40% of the country. And as more moderates leave, the party continues on its death spiral of scaring away more moderates.

    But to all those moderate Republicans out there (there must be one or two left in the CRP), well Asm. Nancy Skinner has an invitation for you.

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    When someone starts off their remarks with “needless to say”, it’s generally a pretty good idea to ignore them.

  6. avatar MaryWesty says:

    Arlen Specter seems like many Republicans who feel they aren’t leaving the Republican Party, it left them.

    I heard poll results yesterday that said only 22% of Americans consider themselves Republicans.

  7. avatar Anonymous says:

    And the Democrats ought to be careful the same thing doesn’t happen to them — in reverse — if the so-called “grassroots” forces them to take ultra-left positions like single-payer health care and opposing realistic budget solutions.

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    Isn’t this reall yup to the people of Pennsylvania? Who cares what party minker Specter wears?

  9. avatar Anonymous says:

    Republicans don’t need to emulate Democrats. If and when that happens then, for all intents and purposes, you have a single political philosophy that governs the nation. We are almost at that point already. But when you have a single political philosophy in governance, as we have at the moment, then you basically have adopted the Socialist one-party system. If that is ultimately where the country wants to go, so be it. But don’t try to package it as something different. People have the right to know what they’re getting … and from whom they’re getting it. The really important outcome is to just keep it all constitutional.

  10. avatar Flap says:

    Have to agree with Jon above.

    Try looking at the map at this link: http://flapsblog.com/2009/04/29/believe-it-or-not-the-gop-is-not-a-regional-party/

    Now, you still going to write that the GOP is a regional party or that the California GOP is in deep trouble.

    Reapportionment and term limits will come to the fore in 2012 as well as new Governor Whitman or Poizner in 2010.

    But, you Dems, can dream on – whether you like it or not.

  11. avatar Anonymous says:

    The sad truth is that neither of these parties has anything really to offer most Americans. One represents big business and Christian extremists & gun nuts, and the other represents gays, welfare recipients, & environmental extremists. Both in the pocket of anyone with contributions = most give to BOTH candidates so they win no matter who gets elected. No party or candidate is offering anything that would improve society for the average middleclass person/family.

  12. avatar Anonymous says:

    Um… Specter voted AGAINST the Obama budget. But hey… let’s not let facts get in the way of bashing him.

    And hell… Specter’s 2008 ACU score was a 42, far better than any Senate Democrat, and even better than Senators Collins and Snowe of Maine. But I’m sure many of the party ideologues celebrating Specter’s switch would like to kick them out of the party, too.

    According to the ACU site, in 2008 Specter —

    * Voted in favor of a (losing) effort to make it more difficult for the Senate to pass income tax increases. HE WAS WITH US
    * Voted for an amendment (which lost) designed to allow repeal of the 1993 tax increase on Social Security benefits. HE WAS WITH US
    * Supported an amendment (which lost) allowing energy exploration in a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and allowing states to authorize oil drilling in their coastal waters. HE WAS WITH US
    * Supported the effort (which lost) to permit increased exploration for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. HE WAS WITH US
    * Voted against an effort to place severe restrictions on U.S. combat troops in Iraq by June of 2009. HE WAS WITH US
    * Opposed an effort to impose higher taxes on energy companies and to direct the revenue to “renewable energy” initiatives. HE WAS WITH US
    * Supported an effort (which lost) to impose some program accountability on funding for the global anti-AIDS/HIV program. HE WAS WITH US
    * Supported an amendment (which lost) designed to strengthen the nation’s immediate anti-ballistic missile program. HE WAS WITH US

    Would I prefer that we had a more solid conservative voting record? Sure. But I fail to see how the purists’ efforts to purge the party of those who don’t toe the line 100% is anything but a race to the bottom resulting in ZERO political power or leverage to prevent what Obama/Pelosi/Reid want to do to our country. Gee… thanks Club for Growth.

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