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November 14, 2004
Learning To Be A Majority Party

Both Hugh Hewitt and myself have taken a lot of heat for our position on the Arlen Specter kerfuffle. Our readers keep reminding us of Specter's track record over six terms in the Senate as a center-left gadfly in GOP ranks. I don't want to speak for Hugh -- he can speak well enough on his own -- but I am well aware of Specter's track record, and it's not as germane as people think.

In the first place, Specter's record on judicial nominations is nowhere near as bad as people like to make out. He took part in the original Borking, and Robert Bork has understandably made Specter's ascension to the chair of the Judiciary Committee a personal crusade. However, during the past term Specter supported every one of Bush's nominees -- every one. And if he blew it with Bork, he had the credibility to attack Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas nominations, which allowed the most conservative justice nominated in the past 15 years to take the bench.

The real problem is the air of triumphalism that has infected the GOP faithful after the tremendous victory on November 2. Believe me, I understand that; Mitch Berg, King Banaian, and I sat in a radio studio all night long (until 3 am) providing Election Night coverage in the breaks on Hugh's show, and we were all doing high-fives on the Senate returns. Now that we have a significant majority, the base wants to take it for a spin, and understandably so.

However, picking a fight with Arlen Specter is a poor choice of battles. Specter is not the only center-left Republican in the Senate; Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chaffee ally naturally with Specter, and John McCain has expressed support for the Pennsylvanian as well. Denying Specter the natural ascension to the chair that he expects will alienate at least these three votes from the whip, making filibusters all but inevitable.

Even that isn't really the issue. Republicans have to learn how to be a majority party. We've talked for years about being a big-tent party, but without allowing members to dissent on issues, talk is all it is. Specter, Snowe, and Chaffee know that their views won't carry the day but they do expect to be able to express them without being threatened with oblivion. In return, they support the majority of the party's initiatives and provide needed support to the President in getting his legislative agenda as a whole through Congress.

If we start demanding ideological purity, we will drive off a significant level of support not only for Bush in the Senate but from the electorate as a whole. Why did the Democrats lose their majority status in the first place? We've spent the entire presidential election lamenting the loss of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, opposition members that supported a strong national defense and foreign policy. The International ANSWER wing of the Democratic Party drove them off over the last years of their majority status when they demanded a politically-correct party line and brooked no dissent.

As an example, can you imagine a pro-life Democrat being given any kind of leadership position now? He or she would be driven from office by a combination of Emily's List, NOW, and a half-dozen other advocacy groups in the next primary.

If we want to maintain our ascendancy, we need to develop the maturity to allow those who agree with us on 75% of the issues to feel as though they belong in the GOP. Specter has already been put on notice, and as long as he has something to lose (the chair), he will be pressured to support the President's legislative agenda and judicial nominations. If he has nothing left to lose, we face not only six years of obstructionism by Specter but likely a coalition of centrist GOP Senators that will coalesce to hold the GOP majority hostage in the next two.

If we initiate a blood purge on the cusp of our majority status, we can expect nothing but internecine warfare during the next Congressional session. We will follow the path trodden by the Democrats over the past ten years.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 14, 2004 7:49 PM

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» Senator Specter Defends Himself from Abstract Musings
Since the election, a debate has been occuring over the presumed chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Commitee by Arlen Specter. The main opposition to Specter has been from The Corner and RedState, which formed a website called Not Specter. Hugh Hewit... [Read More]

Tracked on November 15, 2004 9:02 PM

» Switchboard overload against Specter from The Key Monk
. . . despite the press spin, this is NOT an abortion/nonabortion litmus test of Republican Senators as Republicans. Instead, the issue is whether the Republicans can afford to have a Judiciary Chairman who is not favorably disposed to the President's ... [Read More]

Tracked on November 16, 2004 10:24 AM

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