The Big Tent Shrinks Even Further


A round up of reactions in the blogosphere to Specter's party switch. Matt Welch:

Throat-clearing aside, this strikes me as no favor at all to the Democrats. By choosing to die on the hill of the stimulus package of all things, Specter reinforces whatever notion there is that stimuli and bailouts are Democratic, not Republican, pet toys. Since professional Republicans are currently scattered in the wind, trying desperately to latch onto the anti-stimulus/bailout Tea Party movement, cementing that divide may come back to haunt Democrats when those policies (inevitably, I think) become so derided that even Barack Obama's impressive popularity can't rescue them.

Jonathan Chait:

The broader symbolism here is that it’s another sign that Barack Obama’s first two years may not look like Bill Clinton’s. In 1993-94, Clinton’s approval ratings sagged, his party lost special elections everywhere, and conservative Democrats were switching to the GOP. Obama’s approval ratings are high and holding steady, Democrats remain far more popular than Republicans, Democrats held the first special election, and now they’ve picked up a party switch. It’s still early, but Obama is starting to build a self-sustaining psychology of success.

Jay Nordlinger:

[Specter] begins with the nonsense about how the Republican party has moved too far to the right, blah, blah, blah. That’s not to be taken seriously. That’s just rationalization, and not very smart rationalization at that.

Steve Benen:

But if reaching the 60-vote threshold doesn't make Arlen Specter's big switch "huge," what makes today's news a seismic political shift? It's further evidence of a Republican Party in steep decline, driven by a misguided ideological rigidity. Indeed, Specter suggested as much in his statement: "Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right."


Interestingly, he remains a foe of EFCA, which means that labor is free to fund and help a real Democrat in the Democratic primary. Bizarre choice. Had he decided to back EFCA, as he has always done so in the past, he'd have labor's full support. Now, he gives the opposition an opening to take him out in the Democratic primary.


...from a political perspective, instead of facing serious pressure from the Right (because of Toomey's primary challenge), he will now face serious pressure to move to the left on various issues. That's because he's now going to have to run in a Democratic primary, and though the party will do what it can to clear the field for him, he'll still likely face some competition. And whoever he faces in the primary will play up his or her own Democratic bona fides while attacking Specter's lack thereof. So Specter will have to do things to prove that he is a legitimate Democrat. And if he proves to be a major obstacle to Obama's agenda, he'll suffer for it; the honeymoon will be over very quickly.

Nate Silver:

This defection, coming at a time when historically low numbers of Americans are identifying themselves as Republican, would seem to be a manifestation of [the Republican] Death Spiral. These problems, indeed, were particularly acute in Pennsylvania, where many of the state's more moderate Republicans had re-registered as Democrats to vote in the state's extremely contentious primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Thus, given an extremely conservative Republican electorate, Specter appeared to be an underdog against his extremely conservative primary challenger, Pat Toomey, and switched parties in order to increase his odds of survival.

Former Republican John Cole:

I’m still waiting on my Soros check and forty virgins, so don’t get too excited, Arlen. Oh, and by the way, wingnuts- how is that Republican purity treating you? Is the GOP small enough to drown in a bathtub yet? Going to love hearing how a loyal foot soldier for three decades in the GOP wasn’t “conservative enough.”


Instant analysis:  this is probably not a good sign for the future of the Republican party, not because Arlen Specter is so crucial to its ideological or political integrity, but simply because he's a seasoned politician from a swing state, and what does he know that other Republicans don't?

Ed Morrissey:

 I’m in the good-riddance category here.  Normally I argue for a big tent and the need to woo moderates by focusing on core values.  Specter betrayed those values in his Porkulus vote and cloture cave.  He could have forced Obama, Pelosi, and Reid to start negotiating in good faith with his Republican colleagues, but instead allowed them to shove a bad bill down their throats.


Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty.)