Arlen Specter’s announcement this week of his plans to switch to the Democrat side of the aisle is sending shockwaves throughout the country.
No one is surprised as to the motives behind the defection, as Pennsylvania conservatives’ ire over Senator Specter and his big government leanings are very well-known. These tensions were headed to a breaking point in advance of Specter’s 2010 re-election bid and the switch was necessary to keep his hopes of political survival alive. It is in how the GOP responds to this bombshell however that will dictate its impact on the future of the conservative limited government movement.
Staring down the barrel of the immediate policy consequences of the Specter switch will give freedom-loving conservatives a good deal of heartburn. Specter will work to endear himself to his new party and their march toward the Obama agenda of big government. Socialized medicine, a massive carbon cap-and-trade tax hike, union-empowering card check legislation: all these liberal policy wish-list items now have new life. A sixty-vote margin in the Senate is now guaranteed to beat back the threat of a conservative filibuster against any of these proposals and many on the Right, to include myself, are worried about this newly strengthened Democratic steamroller paving America’s way towards socialism.
Surely many in the conservative soft-middle are already preparing their arguments for why it’s important for the GOP to come closer to the center (i.e. the Left). Some Republicans in Congress will reason that they must acquiesce to the Democrats on much of the policy agenda to have any hope of slipping in modest wins for conservative constituencies. Those more obsessed with power will seek this same approach in order to benefit their status on key committees and ensure the survival of pet projects for their districts and states. Certainly we will be able to depend on a core of rock-solid conservative champions like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn in the Senate and Republican Study Committee Members in the House, but their ability to keep the GOP rooted in good, limited government principles will be significantly weakened by the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” crowd.
Anticipating this latest crisis of conscience that Congressional Republicans will go through let me suggest that, in this political game of “chicken,” we shouldn’t turn first.