How much more can the Republicans take? Demoralized, shrinking and seemingly lacking an agenda beyond the word “no,” Republicans today saw their ranks further thinned with the stunning news that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter is switching parties and will run for reelection in 2010 as a Democrat.
Specter is worried about his own survival — and particularly a primary challenge from the right. Many in the GOP might say good riddance. After supporting President Obama’s stimulus package, Specter was persona non grata in his own party. So it may be easy for some Republicans to conclude that they are better off without people like Arlen Specter.
But his defection is a reminder that the Republican Party continues to contract, especially outside the South, and that it appears increasingly less welcome to politicians and voters who do not consider themselves solidly conservative. Northeast Republicans have gone from an endangered species to a nearly extinct species. Republicans lost ground in the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest in the last two elections. That’s no way to build a national party.
In the first 99 days of the Obama administration, it has sometimes felt like the Republicans have had a different “leader” each day. Last week the leader of the party was Dick Cheney, attacking Obama for his decision to end the harsh interrogation techniques on some terrorist suspects and to release Justice Department memos outlining those procedures.
Earlier, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour have taken the spotlight. Rush Limbaugh? He too led the Republicans for a week last winter. Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman? He was pretty visible for a time earlier this year, wasn’t he? The list goes on. Don’t forget Newt Gingrich or the two elected “leaders” in Congress: House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY).