Upon hearing this afternoon of Senator Arlen Specter’s decision to switch parties and run for re-election as a Democrat, my very first reaction was, “Well, who can blame him?” The Republican Party has little to offer Specter. The party offered little support for his political efforts and conservatives within the party made it clear that they did not like his refusal to adhere to party discipline.
And what was his incentive to do so? Avoiding a primary challenge? Not getting stabbed in the back by his Republican colleagues in the Senate? Demographics don’t favor Republicans in Pennsylvania and aren’t going to again, at least not for the foreseeable future. I’m a little surprised that Specter didn’t switch affiliations to become an independent, but then again I suppose that in a state the size of Pennsylvania it’s extremely difficult to overcome the power of party affiliation.
A guy can only take so much abuse. Simply put, Specter was made to feel unwelcome in the GOP and now, he’ll have to find a comfort zone in the other party. The tent just got a little bit smaller, and the Republicans are now politically weaker — substantially weaker — because of it. Assuming that Al Franken is certified as Minnesota’s newest Senator, Specter will now be the 60th U.S. Senator caucusing with the Democrats, rendering the majority in the Senate (theoretically) filibuster-proof.
Such are the rewards of insisting on ideological purity instead of building broad governing coalitions: moderates bail out and go to the other party. The lesson to the GOP here is in the title to this post.