Politics & Policy

Thank You, Arlen

We reelected the worst Republican Senator, and still lost Pennsylvania.

Rick Santorum and George W. Bush told us that the GOP needed Arlen Specter. We needed Arlen Specter to deliver Pennsylvania for Bush. We needed Arlen Specter to boost the party in the Keystone State. We needed Arlen Specter to keep the Senate majority.

Santorum and Bush were wrong. They were wrong morally, and they were wrong politically. These men saved the man who saved Roe v. Wade, and now the costs to the pro-life cause, the conservative movement, and the Republican party–for so little benefit–could be deep and long-lasting.

Pennsylvania was always a stretch for Bush, and any decent political analyst knew that before Specter won the nomination in late April. The biweekly Evans-Novak Political Report, for which I write, said long ago that Bush would win Pennsylvania only if he somehow got a nationwide landslide. In other words, Pennsylvania would not be Bush’s margin of victory, it was clear.

Not only should the GOP leadership have known Bush would lose Pennsylvania, they should have known that having Specter on the ballot would not help. It is an odd assumption that liberal voters would go to the ballot box to vote for Specter and think: “As long I’m voting for the Republican Senate candidate, I may as well vote for the presidential nominee in the same column.”

It is more reasonable, in a year in which the base’s motivation was questionable, to argue that Specter’s primary challenger, conservative Rep. Pat Toomey, would have helped more by making sure the base, as well as the pro-life Bob Casey Democrats, showed up and pulled the Bush lever.

Specter’s unhelpfulness on the presidential level also showed itself in some very concrete and visible ways. Most striking were the “Kerry and Specter for Working Families” signs posted around Southeastern Pennsylvania. Was the culprit some particularly ambitious freelance ticket-splitter? The signs were created, paid for, and posted by a 527 created by Roger Stone, chairman of Specter’s 1996 presidential campaign.

Dick Cheney went to Pennsylvania in the final week before the election, and NRO’s The Corner caught the priceless transcript:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: The president and I are delighted to be part of a great Republican ticket here in Pennsylvania this year. I want to thank Congressman Tim Murphy for his kind words and the great leadership he provides. (Applause.) And I also want to put in a good word for Senator Arlen Specter, although he couldn’t be here today.


THE VICE PRESIDENT: This is a tough crowd.

A poll released on the day of Cheney’s appearance showed Specter up by 20 points, and yet Specter didn’t have the time to help the top of his ticket, which was trailing by five that same day.

Yet Santorum and Bush told us we needed Specter to help the president win reelection.

Nor did Specter provide any help down-ticket. He didn’t do any rallies or fundraisers with the embattled congressional candidates around the Keystone State. Most notably, Republican Melissa Brown lost to EMILY’s List favorite Allyson Schwartz in Specter’s base of Northeast Philly and some of the suburbs, and Specter never leant a hand. Republican Scott Paterno also got no Specter help in his hard-fought losing bid in Harrisburg.

Toomey, Santorum told us, would lose to Hoeffel, while Specter was a sure thing. To begin with, considering Hoeffel’s political mediocrity there is no reason to assume Toomey would have lost.

Second, losing Specter’s seat to a Democrat would not have been all bad. A top Republican Senator, in explaining his difficulty in winning votes in the upper chamber, recently told a crowd, “I only have 51 votes–really only 47.” That was an admission that Specter–like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Lincoln Chafee–is a Republican in Name Only. Hoeffel would not have detracted from Bill Frist’s functional majority.

It was clear as early as April that the GOP would be expanding its majority. Of the eight open seats this year, seven were in states Bush won. Of the highly competitive Senate races, all were in Red states, and nearly all were in states that were never in play in the 2004 presidential election.

In January, the Evans-Novak Political Report wrote: “In other words, Republicans have almost guaranteed an expanded Senate majority.”

Would we really be worse off were Hoeffel a U.S. Senator now? While certainly more liberal than Specter, Hoeffel would do less harm. It is precisely the “clout” Specter bragged about that should worry conservatives around the country.

Specifically, Specter is in line to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is in charge of confirming judicial appointments. There is no doubt that we would be better off with 54 Republican Senators and Judiciary Chairman Jon Kyl than 55 and Chairman Specter.

But Bush and Santorum insisted we needed Specter in the Senate.

Exactly as conservatives said throughout the contest, there is no good reason to trust Arlen Specter. When we brought up that Specter sank Bork, he didn’t defend himself, but instead pointed to what he did to Anita Hill. For any pro-lifer, the Borking of Bork should be an unforgivable sin.

Instead of Bork, we got Anthony Kennedy, who changed his mind at the last moment in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey and cast the deciding vote to save Roe v. Wade. So Arlen Specter saved Roe v. Wade, a ruling he has repeatedly gone on record saying was rightly decided and ought not be overturned.

Still, Bush and Santorum told us Specter would play nice as judiciary chairman. Yet in a debate this October, Specter promised to deliver us “centrist” judges. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says he told them he would not allow any “extremist” judges on the court. Both the Post-Gazette and the Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed him on the grounds he would save Roe again and block more Antonin Scalias and Clarence Thomases.

Either Specter is misleading the papers and debate watchers or he is not really planning on supporting Bush. Bush has held up Scalia and Thomas as his model justices. The media do not consider them “centrist” and the Post-Gazette surely considers them “extremist.” He has led the media to believe he would oppose another Scalia while leading conservatives to believe he would support one.

So either Specter’s fooling someone, or Bush is fooling everyone. That is, Specter’s actions and comments are only consistent if Bush already plans on giving us another Anthony Kennedy.

Considering this picture, one has to wonder what thoughts ran through Rick Santorum’s mind as he tried to go to sleep on Election Night. Was Santorum surprised that Specter didn’t help Bush? Did he really believe Specter could deliver Pennsylvania to the president?

Does Santorum feel betrayed by Specter’s remarks on judges? Is Santorum ready to bear the blame for Specter’s performance for the next six years?

Arlen Specter owes Bush and Santorum his career, but he isn’t acting like it. Once we see what sort of Supreme Court Specter’s committee gives us, conservatives will know what we owe Santorum.

Timothy P. Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.

Timothy P. CarneyMr. Carney, the author of Alienated America, is the commentary editor of the Washington Examiner and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


The Latest