Today, Sen. Arlen Specter announced that he is switching parties to become a Democrat. In a statement released to the press, Specter explained that the GOP has left moderates behind and “has moved far to the right.” (Indeed, today’s Progress Report discusses how radical elements of the conservative movement are in the ascendancy within the Republican Party.)
Republican leaders have been swift in their condemnation of Specter’s move, dismissing it as an act of “political survival.” But Specter’s departure from the Republican Party was motivated more by the actions of radical leaders from within the right-wing establishment than by party registration numbers in Pennsylvania. RNC Chairman Michael Steele had called for punishing Specter for straying from strict party discipline, and a chorus of hard-right conservatives have been viciously trashing the Senator for months:
— RUSH LIMBAUGH: “Snowe, Collins, Specter […] you’re going to have a number of RINO Republicans. I said earlier today it’s great to flush them out, get them out of there. Let it be known that they are not Republicans.” [CNN, 2/13/09]
— At an anti-Obama “tea party” protest in Scranton, the “loudest boos” were “reserved for Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, while the event emcee discussed the Pennsylvania senator’s support for the federal stimulus.” [Scranton Times, 4/15/09]
— Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) told a conservative blogger Specter “cut our knees from under us.” He added that conservatives in the Senate need to aggressively “go after” Specter and other GOP moderates Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). [The Hill, 2/27/09]
— Fox News’ Dick Morris: “Specter, Collins and Snowe are Benedict Arnolds.” [Townhall, 2/11/09]
— Radio show host Melanie Morgan, along with writers from the right-wing website FreeRepublic.com, “stormed” Specter’s office and “yelled” at his staff in order to “embarrass” the Senator over his “pro-stimulus vote.” [Washington Times, 2/11/09]
Specter’s opponent in the primary — free market-fundamentalist Pat Toomey — announced his candidacy on the day of the anti-Obama, anti-tax tea party protests. Despite the the fact that tea parties have been distinguished by calls for violence, bigotry, and reflexive attacks on Obama, Toomey’s harnessing of the movement came at a time when Republican leaders like Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) embraced the protests as the future of the party.
Will conservatives continue to march down the path of radicalism, obstruction, and reflexive opposition to the President, or will the movement change course and reject the rightwing agenda to prevent more defections of GOP moderates?