Republicans ‘fire’ Specter, look forward

Published 9:58 am Friday, May 1, 2009

It is a reasonably common reaction when one is abandoned in an emotional relationship, to “fire” the person who dumped you.

So this week, after Arlen Specter moved his chair to the left (Democratic) side of the aisle, those he abandoned were quick to argue they were glad he was gone and they were about to fire him anyway.

This time there is some truth to the charge that Republicans were about to fire Specter.

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The five-time Pennsylvania senator, a favorite to win re-election, would most likely have not been able to win the Republican nomination in his own party primary. Why? He is not conservative enough, and even though he would have been re-elected in the general election Republicans had decided they would rather lose his crucial senate seat than support a Republican who only voted the party line about 60 percent of the time.

Consider just how ideological the Republicans had to be to be willing to lose the final Senate seat that permitted them the ability to filibuster in the Senate because the occupant of that seat was not a “real” Republican.

Should Al Franken, Democrat, of Minnesota be seated in the long and drawn out senate race there, Republicans no longer have enough votes to stop anything senate Democrats might support.

The party of “No” can’t even say no after this.

Before the 2006 election there were 55 Republican senators. After Specter’s move to the Democrats there are 40 Republican senators.

The bad news is the obvious, that this trend is making the Republican Party irrelevant to national politics.

The good news is that in politics, things change quickly, and what looks like a death spiral today could be a recovery tomorrow.

Republicans are arguing internally over whether to open the party up to those who hold ideas and principles at odds with the conservative base, or, alternatively, to “purge” the party of those who do not reflect its values of smaller government, fiscal conservatism and personal responsibility. It looks as though the ideological wing of the party will win this debate.

Senator Ensign (R-Nevada) argues for a Big Tent party, as long as everyone agrees on the three fundamental principles.

Sen. Jim Demint (R-SC) claims the best way to win 60 senate seats is with ideological purity to those principles.

Patrick Toomey, who would have been the conservative Republican challenger to Specter in Pennsylvania, states that Republicans should be open to a wide range of options on the issues, as long as they are within the three principles.

So are they right? Is the Republican Party simply not conservative enough? In 2008 the Party won a majority of white male protestant voters, a large voting bloc. But the party lost women voters, Asian voters, African American voters, Hispanic voters, Catholic voters, Jewish voters, Moderate voters and Independent voters. In effect the Republican Party appealed to no minorities, not enough women and not enough traditional swing voters, moderates and independents. One might argue that public policies that reflect the interests of these voting groups might be the most effective way to increase the party base.

Most importantly, it might help for the Party to find a mirror and look into it carefully to see that they have not been the party of fiscal sanity, nor the party of smaller government and personal responsibility. Claiming ideology without acting on the principles of that ideology seems like, well, cynicism.

Republicans, if you want to purify your Party the beginning point is creditability. Perhaps with the firing of Specter you are now saying “And we really mean it this time.”

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.