From the Los Angeles Times:
Standing before the cameras and the Klieg lights Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) kept a brave face.
“This is not a national story,” McConnell said, playing down the party defection of Pennsylvania’s now-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter. “This is a Pennsylvania story about his inability to be renominated by the Republican Party or be elected as an independent. He made a totally political decision.”
It’s a decision, however, that leaves the Senate with no GOP representation in the Northeast save for Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who is retiring, and moderates Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe in Maine — both of whom joined with Specter in deserting their Republican colleagues to support President Obama’s economic stimulus package.
To find other Republican senators, you have to head as far west as Ohio, where Sen. George V. Voinovich is soon retiring, or south to McConnell’s home state.
Good news has been hard to come by for the GOP of late: Republicans were hammered in the general election in November, losing what looks to be eight seats in the Senate — depending on the outcome in the disputed contest in Minnesota — and yielding even more ground in the House. The party’s new chairman, Michael Steele, got off to a rocky start, alienating rank-and-file conservatives. And in a Pew Research Center poll earlier this month, just 28% of voters identified themselves as Republicans.
I’ll say things are bad for the Goopers! Why look what happened after the announcement–in Texas of all places!
Although McConnell did not portray Specter’s move as an occasion for soul-searching, Collins said: “I do think our party needs to make clear that centrists are welcome.” She cited the efforts of Sen. John Cornyn (R- Texas) — who is trying to recruit some of the few remaining Republican moderates in the House to run for the Senate next year.
But there remains a divide within the party about how best to press forward. That was evident in the Pew Center poll, which said the majority of Republicans polled wanted the GOP to move further to the right.
To that extent, said Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party, Specter’s departure was welcome.
“The Republican Party didn’t leave Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party some time ago,” Nehring said.
From Olympia Snowe‘s Op-ed in The New York Times:
IT is disheartening and disconcerting, at the very least, that here we are today — almost exactly eight years after Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party — witnessing the departure of my good friend and fellow moderate Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, for the Democratic Party. And the announcement of his switch was all the more painful because I believe it didn’t have to be this way.
When Senator Jeffords became an independent in 2001, I said it was a sad day for the Republicans, but it would be even sadder if we failed to confront and learn from the devaluation of diversity within the party that contributed to his defection.
Regrettably, we failed to learn the lessons of Jim Jeffords’s defection in 2001.
It is true that being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of “Survivor” — you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you’re no longer welcome in the tribe. But it is truly a dangerous signal that a Republican senator of nearly three decades no longer felt able to remain in the party.
I have said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates.
There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party.
We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few are worthy to stand. Rather, we should view an expansion of diversity within the party as a triumph that will broaden our appeal.