The Corner

Specter and Hewitt

I’ve been meaning to respond to Hugh Hewitt’s arguments for a Specter chairmanship, but he has been a bit of a moving target. In his latest posts, he seems to have abandoned the curious view that the principle of seniority in the Senate is some ancient conservative principle, the characterization of the anti-Specterites’ objective as a “putsch,” and the thought that the history of the Roman republic tells us something about this debate. What remains are the ideas 1) that it would be better to extract commitments from Specter to fight any attempts to filibuster conservative judges than to remove him because 2) liberal Republican senators would vote against any such judge in revenge if Specter is ousted. (He has also argued that they would vote against changes in the Senate rules concerning judicial confirmations for the same reason.) And 3) passing over Specter would supposedly endanger Rick Santorum’s re-election in 2006.

The likelihood that Specter will make solid commitments to conservatives seem to me to get higher the more heat he takes now—which may be why Rove is watching this debate rather than intervening in it. If he wants to pull Specter right, that is, Hewitt should be lending his voice to the anti-Specter chorus rather than criticizing it. I don’t believe that it’s true that Senator Collins and company would be less likely to vote for a Bush nominee if Specter loses this fight, and Hewitt provides no reasons for thinking that they would.

Santorum is in a delicate position. It is wisest to assume that he’s going to have a tough re-election fight in 2006. Right now, he has a problem with the base over his support of Specter in the primary this spring. He can’t come to Specter’s defense without making that problem worse, and he can’t throw his colleague overboard either. If Santorum doesn’t play a leading role in dumping Specter—and he won’t—I doubt he’ll pay a price for its having happened. If Specter stays and derails a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court, he’ll pay a huge one.

Finally, let me say a word in defense of Lara Jakes Jordan, who reported Specter’s comments on judges last week for AP. (As you will recall, Specter compared Roe v. Wade to Brown v. Board of Education and advocated a pre-emptive surrender to liberal filibusters.) Hewitt bashes her for (liberal) agenda journalism. Maybe she is a liberal. But her write-up of Specter’s comments was good reporting. And while her reporting of Santorum’s remarks about sodomy, bestiality, and assorted other topics last year may have had a slant, the remarks were newsworthy—and the controversy they created would have happened even if a conservative reporter had done the story. We discredit our own honorable argument about the media’s bias if we resort to it every time a Republican gets himself in trouble with his own words.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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