First, there is a breathtaking degree of opportunism at work. Specter recently declared: “I’m staying a Republican because I think I have a more important role to play there.” On the subject of control of government he had pronounced: “I think each of the 41 Republican senators, in a sense — and I don’t want to overstate this — is a national asset because if one was gone, you’d only have 40, the Democrats would have 60, and they would control all of the mechanisms of government.” And as for the leader of his new party, Specter declared:
And because if we lose my seat they have 60 Democrats, they will pass card check, you will have the Obama tax increases, they will carry out his big spending plans. So the 41st Republican, whose name is Arlen Specter is vital to stopping tax increases, passage of card check, and the Obama big spending plans.”
One wonders what the limits of political opportunism must be and whether voters of either party care much for this sort of spineless shifting. As a staffer in his office confided to me, “It is all about him.” Indeed. And in a presser today Sen. Mitch McConnell blows the whistle on his opportunistic colleague:
Well obviously we are not happy that Senator Specter has decided to become a Democrat. He visited with me in my office late yesterday afternoon and told me quite candidly that he’d been informed by his pollster that it would be impossible for him to be re-elected in Pennsylvania as a Republican because he could not win the primary. And he was also informed by his pollster that he could not get elected as an Independent and indicated that he had decided to become a Democrat.
Second, will this make a huge difference? Well, Specter voted to confirm Eric Holder and for the Obama stimulus plan. This month he’s opposed to card check but who knows about the future. He voted against the president’s budget but seemed very upset with his “banana republic” approach to a Truth Commission on interrogation techniques. In short, the Republicans could expect no loyalty on filibuster votes and I suspect the Democrats will be in the same boat. He was never a “safe” or reliable 40th vote. Republicans are marginally, but not dramatically, worse off now.
And finally, for months leading up to this moment, the Republican leadership including Sens. John Cornyn and McConnell went to great lengths to avoid criticism and support their ofter wayward colleague. In multiple interviews I have had with Sen. McConnell he never uttered anything but support for Specter, often refusing to take the opportunity to ding him. Their efforts were roundly criticized by their own base. It must be galling indeed to see today that that loyalty was for naught. A party must be flexible and broad in order to govern, but it depends on the loyalty and willingness of its adherents to stomach tough times. In this case the “fault” sits squarely with Specter.
And we’ll now see if voters agree with Jonathan Chait’s conclusion that Specter personifies “hackdom.”