Specter’s Pyrrhic Self-Preservation

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is now officially becoming a Democrat. There isn’t much of a shock to this—Specter has always been an erstwhile Republican, and he would have lost in the Pennsylvania GOP primary to Pat Toomey. Specter’s argument that somehow the GOP has moved too far to the right for his liking is really just political cover—this is all about his own political self-preservation.

The problem for Specter is that there’s a good chance that he won’t win the Democratic primary. As NRO’s Jim Geraghty notes, why would the Democrats want a former Republican with a lifetime ACU rating in the 40s who opposes the union-backed “Employee Free Choice Act” and has ties with President Bush? Pennsylvania Democrats don’t need Arlen Specter nearly as much as Arlen Specter needs Pennsylvania Democrats.

The GOP should have gotten rid of Specter in 2004 when they had the chance. Specter’s claim that the GOP has moved too far to the right is based largely on his vote on the stimulus bill—which is opposed by far more than just Republicans. The GOP needs to remake its image, and jettisoning the old guard is probably better in the long run. What is needed now is a party that is more self-confident in their ideology and in their policies. The GOP right now is at war with “moderates” who barely identify with Republican principles and hard-liners who have failed to identify with the American people. That’s not a good position for a party to be in, especially not with a Democratic Congress and a President who could be caught on national TV greedily consuming a mewling infant and still get a 60% approval rating.

The GOP needs to get its act together and fast. Doing so without excess baggage is probably better over the long term, even if it is a huge problem over the short term. Specter was not the sort of person who could motivate the GOP base or the American people. His party switch hurts the Republicans in the short term, to be sure. But it is quite possible than even this Hail Mary play won’t be enough for Specter to keep his political career afloat.