Friday, May 1, 2009

May 1, 2009

     Arlen Specter didn't suddenly become a Democrat because the Republican Party's philosophy was making him uncomfortable.  Of course not.  Arlen Specter switched parties because he thought that was his best chance of keeping his Senate seat.
     He was probably right.  In the GOP primary, he would have faced a more conservative Republican, Pat Toomey, who gave him a hard fight in 2004 and who would beat him now, according to public opinion polls. Specter figured he'd have a better shot in the general election, where Democrats and independents could vote for him.  He's probably right.
     But if the switch was purely out of self-interest, it still is a warning for the Republicans.  They like to insist there's really a conservative majority in the country.  But the evidence is that the middle is where most Americans are.  The number identifying themselves as Republicans has gone down in recent years.  The number of Democrats hasn't gone up all that much, but the GOP is losing voters.
    My own feeling is that's because the party's most militant conservatives are pushing, with some success, for the party to take hardline views on their issues--abortion, cuts in spending, and so on.  That's driving voters away.  The party needs to be more open, encourage debate and compromise on some of these issues.  I don't know if they'll do that, but if they don't, Specter will look like something of a prophet.

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