Arlen Specter punctuated his decision to leave the Republican party with a rant about how the party’s “right wing” is causing moderate Republicans to lose elections. Specter cited several defeated Republican House members but was most annoyed by the demise of former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee. That result, Specter complained, cost him his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That, in turn, prevented the confirmation of more than a dozen Bush court of appeals nominees, according to Specter.
Specter offered no evidence that Republican right-wingers did Chafee in. The Rhode Island RINO won his primary, but Specter claimed that the challenge he faced from a more conservative Republican forced Chafee to spend too much of his money. However, 2006 was a banner year for the Democrats, and Rhode Island is an extremely liberal state. One should not assume that Chafee’s primary fight cost him his seat.
Nor should one assume that, in a 50-50 Senate (even with Dick Cheney as the tie-breaker), Republican court of appeals nominees would have been confirmed in large numbers. First, it’s doubtful that the Republicans would have been 100 percent behind many of these nominees, particularly with Chafee in their ranks. Second, it takes 60 votes, not 50, ultimately to confirm a judge. When the Republicans held 55 seats they could plausibly threaten the “nuclear option” (which I don’t think Specter ever supported) and strike a deal. With 50 members (including Specter and Chafee), I doubt they could have replicated that feat.
Moreover, it requires something of a leap of faith to believe that Chafee would have remained a Republican had he been re-elected. It seems about equally likely that he would have pulled a “Jim Jeffords” and switched sides. With control of the Senate at stake, the Dems would have offered Chafee plenty.
Finally, Specter forgets that the Republican establishment has bent over backward to accommodate his own centrism. President Bush and conservative party establishment supported Specter in his 2004 fight with a genuine conservative (Pat Toomey, the same one running this time) and, after his re-election, he was allowed to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee notwithstanding his sometimes spotty record on Republican nominees.
If Specter wants to abandon the Republican so he can serve another term, so be it. But he should spare us the lecture.
UPDATE: Note too that Specter himself said it was his vote against the stimulus package that sealed his doom as a Republican office seeker. But no Republican party — not the one Specter joined in 1965 and not any since — would have swallowed that vote.
So Specter’s problem isn’t so much that the Republican party has turned hard right; it’s more that the Democratic party is hard left and Specter doesn’t find this problematic.