Arlen Specter Switching Parties – ‘Loyal Democrat’
Arlen Specter is switching party labels to go along with having long switched sides ideologically. There have been rumors on Twitter all morning and WaPo’s Chris Cillizza has confirmed.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.
Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)
“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”
He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”
That happened quite some time ago. Facing a tough primary, yet again, from Pat Toomey (who was crushing him in the polls), the time was likely right.
My only objection to the move is the timing. Specter is either an idiot or a liar to claim that the Republican Party’s ideological movement is something sudden. Certainly, he was well to the left of the national base in 2004. Why didn’t he run as a Democrat, then?
I’ve been arguing for years that it is unethical for elected officials to change parties without resigning and running for re-election. That’s doubly true when doing so would alter the balance of power in the Senate. Most of the Pennsylvanians who voted for Specter in 2004 did so, in many cases reluctantly, on the good faith belief that he would vote with the Republican Party on leadership and at least nominally be part of the Republican coalition, even if departing from it on a number of key issue votes.
UPDATE: My wife’s firm, which did Specter’s polling in 1992, 1998, and 2004 has issued a statement that “because of his surprising decision to switch parties today, we will no longer be involved.”
President Barack Obama, on the other hand, is “thrilled.”
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias makes a fair point about Specter’s RINOness.
DW-NOMINATE scores shows that in the 110th Senate Specter was exactly what he claimed to be—a Republican who was less conservative than many other Republicans. Maine’s Olympia Snowe was to the right of all the Democrats, but to the left of all the other Republicans. Then Susan Collins was one click to her right. Then there was Gordon Smith and Norm Coleman and then Specter. In the 109 you didn’t have Smith and Coleman trying as desperately to position themselves as moderate for re-election purposes, so it went Chafee, Snowe, Collins, Specter. In the 108 it was Chafee, Snowe, Collins, Specter.
Thus, even if Specter were to reposition himself as the most conservative member of the Democratic Party he’d still have to become more left-wing than he’s been. What’s more, in the past there’s been a tendency for party switchers to suffer from ideological drift. Jim Jeffords went from being more conservative than most Democrats to being solidly liberal, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell went from being more liberal than most Republicans to being virulently right-wing.
I’d note that these things are contradictory. Party outliers still vote with their leadership on issues where they don’t have strong personal conviction or constituent interest; once they switch parties, that same flexibility works in the interests of the other party.
But, no, Specter isn’t a “liberal” by Democratic Party standards; just by Republican Party standards. The same was true the other way for Joe Lieberman.
So, why the animosity? Because party outliers are always used by the other side and the media to embarrass the party. A John McCain’s or Joe Lieberman’s or Arlen Specter’s disagreements with their own party are more interesting. Quite often, too, they seem to like the media courting that comes with this position and thus they come across as preening schmoes, further irritating their ostensible “team.”
UPDATE: George Stephanopoulos reports Specter told Obama, “I’m a loyal Democrat. I support your agenda.” Now, he might be a Democrat. But loyal?
And, again, while conceding that the social conservatives have greatly increased their influence over the GOP since 1980, when Specter was first elected to the Senate, if he now supports Barack Obama’s decidedly un-Reaganesque agenda, the party isn’t the only party in this deal that’s moved.