We try not to engage too much in political punditry here, but the latest Terry Madonna and Michael Young Politically Uncorrected piece, on the end of Sen. Arlen Specter’s tenure, is too off-base to ignore They of course, bemoan the loss of another “moderate” (see a previous critique of their love of “moderates”). But more ill-conceived, they claim Specter is not at all to blame for his loss:
Specter simply sailed into the perfect political storm. He was caught in a convergence of forces and factors over which he had minimal control.
Everything went wrong for him: he was running for re-election against a tide of virulent anti-incumbency; he was the quintessential moderate in an era given over to the politics of polarization; he drew a younger, vigorous primary opponent not experienced enough to know he couldn’t win; his age and many medical problems appeared to enfeeble him; and his five terms in office weighed him down with too many votes that had angered too many people.
And then there was that party switch, for him the proverbial straw. But even that was beyond his control. Yes, he could have stayed a Republican, but he would have lost that primary too – and decisively as well.
As I mentioned on our live-blog, Specter’s loss was one of his own making. Indeed Specter made so many blunders, it should be a case study of what not to do.
Mistake #1: Voting for the Stimulus. Specter’s downfall began with vote for the $787 billion “stimulus” bill. There was nothing moderate about the stimulus legislation – it represented nothing more than a massive increase in deficit spending, following the massive increase in deficit spending known as the Bush administration. The stimulus (along with the Wall Street bailouts) was wildly unpopular, and remains so. Indeed, Specter denied that anyone opposed the stimulus and the “moderate” economist he (and Gov. Rendell) cite in support of the stimulus called it “An $800 Billion Mistake.” I could go on, but won’t as we’ve written plenty on this topic. Politically, had Specter opposed the stimulus, there is a decent chance Pat Toomey would never have entered the race for Senate, and a strong chance Specter would be well on his way to another term.
Good Move: Mistake #2: Vowing to Stay Republican. After Toomey entered the Senate race, their were rumors Specter might switch parties or run as an independent. Specter denied all of these, vowing to remain a Republican. He took it one step further, citing that he alone (as a vote to preserve a filibuster) was the only person who could oppose Obama’s agenda and total Democrat rule. He added that he was the only Republican who could win in November, and thus Republicans needed to keep him around. What few remember is that this strategy was starting to work. Many conservatives, including bloggers on Red State, and The Next Right, and folks like Grover Norquist bought in, suggesting that – while they supported Pat Toomey in 2004 – the stakes were too high and losing Specter would allow Obama to run wild. Of course, when Specter switched parties, the good move became mistake number 2.
Mistake #3: Switching Parties. I won’t belabor the point, but changing parties after 30 years, and after pledging not to do so, cost Specter a lot of respect across the board. Madonna and Young may argue, unconvincingly, that Specter was forced to switch, but no one forced him to state outright he was changing parties in order to be re-elected, which became a prominent ad.
Mistake #4: Flipping on Health Care Reform. Supporting Obama’s health care package should have helped Specter in the Democrat primary. At no worse, it should not have hurt him, as Sestak also supported it. However, Specter first opposed any health care bill that included a “public option”, but later joined a group of senators demanding a public option. That made it tough to convince voters he was a “true Democrat” rather than a phony pandering for votes.
Even so, Specter had a sizable early lead in the Democrat primary polls over Joe Sestak. Specter had more money than any other Pennsylvania candidate, more than Sestak, Toomey, Tom Corbett, or Dan Onorato – by far (and contrary to his rhetoric, he got a lot from Wall Street and every other special interest you could name). He had the most name recognition. As I said yesterday on the live-blog, of all state-wide candidates, Specter ran the worst campaign.
Mistakes #5, 6, 7, and 8: Ignoring Issues and Attacking Sestak. Early on Specter ignored Joe Sestak – a miscalculation, as Sestak twice debated Toomey on policy issues, the first in the midst of the health care debate (at the time, many media laughed about the two debating without Specter…not so much). Once Specter began paying heed to Sestak, he started with attacks over how much Sestak paid campaign workers. Specter followed that up with attacks over Sestak missing votes to campaign (something Specter didn’t have to deal with, and the Senate adjourned so he could hold a fundraiser).
Needless to say, with the highest unemployment in 27 years and record federal deficits, voters did not think these were the most crucial issues. The final straw came with Specter’s ad questioning Joe Sestak’s military record – it did not go over well.
As we have noted before, the problem with contemporary politics is not those that are “too ideological” – for which you should substitute the words “too principled” to see what an oxymoron it is – but politicians who lack any principle at all, and simply do and say whatever is more likely to aid their reelection. Too many so-called “moderates” fall into this category.