Now that US Senator Arlen Specter has finally decided to come out of the closet and embrace his liberal side, it should come as no surprise that the Democrats are playing up the party switch as a monumental victory for the DNC while Republican liberals are denouncing the conservatives of the GOP for chasing out ‘one of our own.’
From the perspective of rank-and-file Republicans, however, the Specter defection means far more than simple political maneuvering by two national political parties.
To begin with, Specter’s decision to switch parties has been a long time in coming, and for many grassroots party members, it is a matter of relief. For years, Specter has been a phantom, fading from conservative to liberal and back again. Since he first ran as a Republican in 1980 (yes, he was a Democrat before running for the US Senate), he has never been able to carry the Republican brand in a consistent manner.
Indeed, one of the first betrayals of the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan was his uniting with liberal Democrats to destroy the name and honor of Robert Bork, who had been nominated by President Reagan to the US Supreme Court.
Second, it cannot be emphasized enough that Specter’s switch is driven solely by political ambition. He had dismissed and denigrated the conservative base of the Republican Party so often, and consistently won the GOP primary, that he took it for granted that he would win re-nomination as a Republican.
Specter never envisioned that he would lose the GOP primary, and was aghast that his primary opponent – Pat Toomey – was not only polling consistently higher than he was, but that he was consistently polling below the 40% threshold expected of a long-term incumbent – even after running a slew of attack ads against Toomey.
Put bluntly, Specter only switched to the Democrat Party as a last, desperate effort to keep a waning grip on an office he has held for far too long. Specter’s switch had nothing to do with conscience or conviction of issues; it was pure political expediency to avoid a primary he was sure to lose.
Third, neither Arlen Specter nor the Democrats who are now rushing to embrace him have any idea what lies ahead. The rank-and-file base weren’t happy with Specter before his switch; now, they are chomping at the bit to see him defeated. The Pennsylvania Republican Party, as inept as it is, has been embarrassed by Specter’s switch-hitting and they need to see Specter lose in 2010 to prove that he made a huge mistake by bailing out on them.
And no one should presume that Specter will just roll over for the Democrat Party agenda. Remember, the biggest thing in Specter’s life is his own ego, and he likes it stroked. Part and parcel of that character trait is the fact that he needs to be the center of attention, and he will do whatever is necessary to be the focus of notoriety – including betraying Democrats. Democrats may see themselves as one step closer to their magical filibuster proof majority, but they do not realize that he is a loose cannon. Just as Specter was thorn in the flesh of the GOP, so shall he be for the Democrats.
And no one should discount the disdain some Democrats will have for Specter. For where Specter has had to defend his "conservative" credentials among grassroots Republicans by pointing out his support of Justices Roberts, Alito and Thomas, he will now have to defend himself against attacks from liberal Democrats on those same issues.
Specter has built a reputation as a middle-of-the-road moderate, but he has never learned that the only thing that happens when one plays in the street is getting hit by a truck.
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