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’.