Is ideological purity so important that conservatives are willing to give the Democrats a license to pass whatever they want?
In the name of William Buckley, I'd like to hear a good conservative explanation for how the Republican Party is somehow better off with Arlen Specter as a part of the Democratic caucus -- especially when all indications from the polling data are that his replacement, Pat Toomey, is going to lose.
I implore readers to leave their thoughts in the comments section, because I honestly don't understand. With Specter in the fold, the Democrats all of a sudden will enjoy a filibuster-proof majority when Al Franken arrives in Washington. From Specter to Lincoln Chafee to Mike DeWine, conservatives have effectively chased off three of the most moderate members of the Republican senatorial caucus, and in the process have lost 12 seats -- twelve! -- over two elections.
In the face of a Democratic Party that aims to engage in the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, the idea that moderates must be expelled and that the Republican Party should become even more exclusive is bewildering.
I laughed at Howard Dean when he engaged in his ambitious 50-state strategy after the 2004 election, but it has paid enormous dividends. Dean, who concerned himself far less with ideological purity and simply focused on winning elections, helped build a true national party out of the tatters of the John Kerry candidacy in 2004. He went to places like Texas, Montana and the deep south -- places long unfriendly to the Democratic Party -- and won election after election after election. He accepted flawed (see: moderate) candidates on the ticket, understanding that a Georgia Democrat might well differ from the ideal, northeastern Democrat in the mold of Ted Kennedy. Dean understood that his job was to win as many seats as possible in each house of Congress. It's not to be an ideological figurehead.
Barack Obama's presidential run further reinforced the Democrats as a big-tent party. Without the all-inclusive message to dress up the neo-liberal voting record, even in such a toxic political climate for the GOP, it's hard to imagine he would have won. The Obama presidential campaign was based upon appeal, not about ideology. The GOP can learn something from the Obama candidacy: Attracting voters is about policy, but it's just as much about message and cross-party appeal.
I have such difficulty understanding why conservatives don't see a problem with what the Republican Party has become vis-a-vis their opponents. Instead of trying to figure out why it is that they continue to get slaughtered at the ballot box, many leading conservatives want to engage in a full-on cleansing of the party.
The Republican Party should be a political vehicle, not an ideological movement, but its opinion makers have it completely backward.
Its policies have become secondary to this ideal that we must keep alive the flame of Reagan, years after the Gipper has passed on, and that any elected official with an (R) behind his name who dares step out of line has committed heresy. There is no room for ideological deviation.
Sen. Specter is a guy who has voted with the Republican Party a little less than half the time over his career. To be sure, he is no conservative. But he is a moderate, and he counted himself a member of the senatorial Republican caucus.
Republicans in 2009 have adopted the same attitude that Democrats took in 2006 when Joe Lieberman was up for re-election. Instead of accepting Lieberman's alleged flaws (basically, that he supported the Iraq War), the party establishment threw its support behind a phenomenally liberal candidate in Ned Lamont, who defeated Lieberman in the primary. However, of course, that wasn't the end of the story, as moderate Democrats and most Republicans (including McCain and Graham) threw their support behind Lieberman, the newly declared independent who eased to a 10-point victory. While Lieberman still caucuses with the Democrats, the Democrats effectively lost a seat, burned virtually all goodwill with one of the most senior and influential members of the Senate, and whatever control over Lieberman they might have had is now lost. It was a collective huge error in judgment.
Furthermore, the Lieberman/Lamont fiasco was an enormous black eye for the party, as it branded them a party whose policies were dictated by the extremists on the far left.
But that's exactly the path the Republican Party was on with respect to Arlen Specter. Republicans were ready to throw Specter out on his ear in favor of the "pure conservative" candidate, Pat Toomey, who now likely will get pounded by Specter in the general election. Is it cathartic for Republicans to expel heretics from the party, even if their replacements don't win?
Thursday morning update: Check out David Frum's spot-on analysis here.