The year was 1992. President George H.W. Bush was making a poor effort in a two-front contest for a second term while Republicans in Congress attempted to salvage what it could from the collapsing national campaign and a president who seemed more interested in supermarket scanner technology than winning re-election.
I was rooting for the GOP in all of the competitive congressional fights with a single exception where I was secretly hoping that a liberal Democrat named Lynn Yankel would successfully unseat a certain Republican incumbent US Senator from Russell, Kansas.
That Republican was Arlen Specter, the less famous (or more infamous) of the two national politicians hailing from that prairie town.
When asked by a reporter on Tuesday afternoon about Specter’s bolt, I replied that I had been expecting it for no less than 16 years. All Specter’s victory over Yankel did was prolong the inevitable and divert millions of Republican campaign dollars away from more deserving congressional candidates.
Specter’s shift back to the party he was registered with at the beginning of his political career underscores Specter’s mantra of practicing the politics of the possible.
It was Specter, then assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, who conjured up the “single bullet theory” that President John Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally were wounded by the same projectile in order to support the contention that only one gunman was involved in the Kennedy assassination.
And it was an opportunistic Specter that sought the Republican nomination for District Attorney in Philadelphia while remaining a registered Democrat.
His switch to the Democratic Party has been spun by Specter’s old policy/new political allies as a sign that the Republican Party is crumbling under the weight of an uncompromising right-wing.
Republican leaders, after ending their self-imposed gag-rule of criticizing Specter, have finally spoken with candor about the calculating nature of his defection. Specter, who was barely renominated in 2004, found himself in hot water with Republican voters (go figure) for his support of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.
Furthermore, polls indicated that Specter would probably lose the GOP nomination to a conservative challenger in 2010 in a state that tends to back the Democratic Party in national general elections.
Despite his welcome by the president and other Capitol Hill Democrats, such traitorous gambits of political expediency don’t always payoff.
In 1999, New York Congressman Michael Forbes jumped from the GOP to the Democrats and received a commitment of political support from President Bill Clinton, whom Forbes had voted to impeach months earlier. Unfortunately for Forbes, Democratic voters were less forgiving and made someone else their nominee in the general election.
I don’t harbor bitterness towards Specter as much as I do at Republican establishment types (most notably former President George W. Bush) who steered millions of dollars of GOP campaign money and the full might of the party apparatus to save Specter from voters that were tired of being made to feel obligated to support “half of a Republican” in the primary because “the powers that be” (i.e. much of the braintrust responsible for the GOP’s current state of affairs) coveted his caucus vote.
For those Republican activists who were condemned for supporting Pat Toomey in 2004, Specter’s defection is your vindication.
We should thank the reconverted Democrat for illuminating for the politically near-sighted GOP beltway elite what Republican proles knew all along: Arlen Specter never had any business being a Republican.
Sad to say, those Republicans who have stood by Specter through the years probably have no regrets for the support they gave him, since in their minds, Specter’s defection was a case of the talk-radio crowd running him off and not the senator running out on those who went to bat for his renomination in the GOP primaries and chairmanship of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
The party base disliked Specter not just because he didn’t agree with them on many of the GOP’s core principles; rather, Specter always made a point of harboring a disagreeable attitude towards conservatives. Specter’s sin wasn’t that he was a liberal Republican, but rather an imperious liberal Republican.
Perhaps Rush Limbaugh’s Operation: Chaos could return in a limited engagement in 2010 in which conservative Republicans in Pennsylvania could masquerade as Democrats during the US Senate primary for the sole purpose of denying Specter, who has spent the last few decades masquerading as a Republican, the nomination of his old/new party.
Talk about poetic justice.