Here's a good example: During the Democratic primaries, Republicans rejoiced that the Democratic Party was spiraling off into Left-Loony-Land like Darth Vader's tie-fighter at the end of "Star Wars." This was undoubtedly great news for Republicans because when the Democratic Party moves to the left, it necessarily abandons the center, opening up the most politically valuable real estate for Republicans.
But as my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out at the time, "Republicans who are conservatives ought not to be so cheery about what's going on. Conservative and Republican interests converge quite frequently, but not entirely. The resurgence of the Democratic Left is one of the places where they don't." He continued, "If Republicans are moving to the center and Democrats to the left, that means both parties are moving leftward - that the center of gravity of American politics is moving leftward."
In other words, if your first priority is to move American politics in a conservative direction, it doesn't always make sense to support the conservative party, i.e. the GOP, in every situation. In Pennsylvania, conservatives thought backing Specter would be disloyal to their principles, while the Republican National Committee may have thought that Toomey's conservative backers were being disloyal to the party.
Look, politicians care about getting reelected more than anything else. That's why, for example, Bush is bucking his base on illegal immigration - the GOP wants more Hispanic voters, while most conservatives want fewer illegal immigrants.
In fact, does anyone doubt that scores of Republican and Democratic congressmen would switch their positions even on abortion if they concluded such a switch would help them at the polls? (Paging Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Poppa Bush.) There's certainly no doubt in my mind that Arlen Specter would be pro-life if that would get him elected. I bet Specter would favor requiring women to wear burqas if that would guarantee him his seat for life.
The balance between conservatives and Republicans is a delicate one. As conservatives tend to be practical folks, they understand that the GOP brought them to the dance. But, just like the girl at the dance, they don't want to be taken for granted. Hopefully, the White House got that message in Pennsylvania.
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