Conservative Bloggers Feud Over Specter

Matt Lewis
|
Posted: Apr 30, 2009 1:19 PM
http://live.psu.edu/slnoflash2/userpics/10003/normal_specter_arlen01.jpgIt was probably inevitable that Republicans would have to settle their ideological fights before returning to power, and Arlen Specter's defection seems to have been the spark that finally ignited this explosion of disagreements.

Politico has a piece up today regarding how Republicans are feuding over Specter. They mention Senators such as Orrin Hatch, George Voinovich and Lindsey Graham who are angry at conservative groups like the Club for Growth, as well as others like RNC Michael Steele and Karl Rove who -- correctly (in my view) -- are blaming Specter for Specter's actions.

But while top Republican leaders are fighting it out, top conservative bloggers are bashing it out, as well.

Perhaps the most controversial post came from National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru, who on Tuesday authored a post titled, "The Club for Shrinkage," where he went on to say,
My initial reaction on hearing the news was that after generating a bunch of Democratic House seats, the Club for Growth has now produced its first Democratic senator. I assume that Specter's votes will now move leftward.
RedState's Erick Erickson shot back, writing,
Everyone from Ramesh Ponnuru to Michael Barone to the Wall Street Journal is collectively wringing their hands about the selfish conservatives and Club for Growth wanting to remain an ideologically pure minority party that can't win the majority because it shuts out squishes.

That's garbage and they should know it.

In response to Erickson's post, Ponnuru backtracked a bit the following day, noting that he,
... strongly supported Pat Toomey's primary challenge against Arlen Specter in 2004, even writing a cover story for NR promoting it. I have agreed with the Club for Growth in supporting conservative candidates for seats that Republicans are likely to win-even when, as in the case of Specter in 2004, that meant opposing a Republican incumbent.
American Spectator's Jim Antle took a more nuanced view of things, writing,

You can plausibly blame the Club for Growth for three Democratic House seats: Maryland's First Congressional District, Michigan's Seventh District, and Idaho's First District, two of which the Club-backed Republicans were able to win in the tough 2006 cycle. The Democrats have picked up over 50 House seats in the last two elections. Iraq, Katrina, and the economic crisis have cost Republicans far more seats than the Club.

Pat Toomey didn't fail to locate the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he didn't commend Brownie on doing a "heckuva job" in New Orleans, and he didn't preside over a financial meltdown or mortgage crisis. To the extent Toomey can be linked to these things at all, it is precisely because conservatives didn't spend the last eight years being disloyal Republicans. Instead they were loyal and partisan to a fault.

Note: I did not include blog posts by folks such as David Frum because, frankly, one would expect him to support Specter over The Club. The real story here is that true conservatives -- such as Ramesh and Erick -- are fighting this out (albeit, respectfully)...

While the bloggers I cited are all legitimate conservatives, the schism is largely being framed by liberals as a pragmatist versus ideologue paradigm (should we support conservative challengers vs. liberal incumbents?). Of course, this is really a question of how conservative will the Republican Party be in the future?

Predictably, of course, liberal Republicans are arguing pragmatism as a rationale for "moderation." Conservatives, though, point to George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" as an example of what happens when conservatism is abandoned in favor of pragmatism.

It should also be noted that many conservatives did choose to rally to Specter's aide back in 2004, only to be burned by him this time around...

Regardless, the fact that this debate is taking place among the highest echelons of Republican elected officials -- and among legitimately conservative bloggers (not Frum) -- implies this is, in fact, a real schism. But while some view this as a bad thing, I see it as an inevitable struggle we must endure in order to rebuild the Party. The Democrats had their ideological fight (liberal bloggers like Markos Moulitsas fought-off those who wanted to "moderate" their party) -- and so shall we ...

Cross-posted at PoliticsDaily.com.