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Specter’s Cynicism — No Secret Then or Now

Jennifer, the story about Arlen Specter’s alleged promise is certainly amusing. Former Senator Rick Santorum has spent the last few years trying to alibi his way out of his support for Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. For Santorum, his backing for Specter is kind of like what health-care reform is for Mitt Romney, an embarrassment that never goes completely away. No matter how he rationalizes it, everyone knows it was a cynical move that betrayed Pennsylvania conservatives and ultimately proved to be a disaster for the Republican party.

But the point about any promises Specter may or may not have made to Santorum about future Supreme Court nominations back then is that both parties to the alleged conversation understood perfectly well that there is no such as a binding promise, let alone a principle when it comes to Pennsylvania’s senior senator. After all, only hours after squeaking out a narrow victory over Toomey, that was due in large part to the enthusiastic support he received from George W. Bush and Santorum, Specter held a press conference distancing himself from both of them.

Moreover, if we’re going to talk about attempts to bribe candidates into dropping out of races, as Representative Joe Sestak claims the Obama administration has tried to do to get him to call off his primary challenge to Specter, there is also the question of what Bush and Santorum may or may not have offered Toomey to do the same back in 2004. But, unlike these Keystone State blabbermouths, the straight-arrow former congressman from Allentown kept mum about the prodigious efforts that were made to get him to halt his primary challenge to Specter six years ago. Whatever it was, he turned them down and simply ran on his conservative and libertarian principles. He fell short then, but if current opinion polls are to be believed, Toomey’s moment may be at hand.

The fact that Specter is a shameless opportunist wasn’t exactly a secret the last time he ran for re-election. And yet his prestige and power as an incumbent was such that he got away with it. There will be no shortage of theories about the meaning of this fall’s election, and, no doubt, national trends as well as the egregiousness of Specter’s party switch will play major roles in determining the outcome. But it may just be as simple as Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom about the impossibility of “fooling all of the people all of the time” finally being vindicated in Pennsylvania this year.


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