The Specter Fallout

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Photo: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images

Happy 100th Day, Mr. President! Arlen Specter's defection from the GOP to the Democratic Party is the best gift Obama could ask for today, the eve of his 100-day milestone (he called Specter almost immediately after hearing the news, and told the new recruit he was "thrilled" to have him). But the political world is just beginning to wrap its head around the deeper significance of the Great Specter Switch of 2009. Will the Democratic agenda get that much easier to push through the Senate, or only slightly, or not at all? Does this signal the death knell of the Republican Party, dooming it to become even more conservative and regional than it is now, or does this reflect nothing more than a single senator preserving his self-interest in the face of certain primary defeat? Or both?

• Jonathan Cohn thinks Specter's switch could be felt outside the Senate as well. If you're a Republican voter, you may start to wonder if the party has "become too extreme for you, as well." [Plank/New Republic]

• Craig Crawford predicts that Specter's switch "could well be a tipping point toward Republicans becoming a regional party. Its base in the South could be all that's left for now." [Trail Mix/CQ Politics]

• Carol Platt Liebau contends that "nothing the Republicans are doing today is any more conservative (or in MSM-speak, 'extreme') than the Reagan platform in 1980." Specter has simply decided to "go where the line is shortest. There is no real competition for the Democratic nomination back to the Senate; on the Republican side, he was running 21 points behind Pat Toomey." [Town Hall]

• Michael Tomasky wouldn't be shocked if Maine's two moderate senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who are likely feeling "more isolated inside their increasingly rightwing and increasingly regional caucus," decide to follow Specter's lead. Whether or not they do, "the Republican party continues to shrink into the tea-party party. I hope they have fun with that." [Guardian UK]

• Markos Moulitsas also speculates that this "could perhaps put pressure on the Maine Republicans to consider following suit, especially Olympia Snowe who may not want to remain a forgotten member of a deep and long-lasting Southern-based minority." [Daily Kos]

• Christopher Orr says the "primary significance" of the defection is that it "represents another data point — and a big one — in the decline of the GOP as a national party." [Plank/New Republic]

• Jay Nordlinger says Specter's claims about the party moving too far to the right are "not to be taken seriously." He simply "thought he was going to lose." [Corner/National Review]

• Jim Geraghty wonders how Democrats "feel about a guy who's been a Republican, with a lifetime ACU rating in the mid-40s, representing you?" [Campaign Spot/National Review]

• Greg Sargent says that labor is now in an "awkward position," because Specter still doesn't support the Employee Free Choice Act. They still expect that Specter's switch "virtually guarantees that EFCA will pass in some form this year. But no one knows what it’ll look like." [Plum Line/Who Runs Gov]

• Steve Benen writes that while "Specter's switch will not mean that the majority will be able to necessarily block all efforts at Republican obstructionism," his "vote just got considerably more reliable than it was, say, yesterday." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Chris Good points out that while Specter "has a new party label, he's not that into party labels. And while he'll eat lunch with the Democrats every Tuesday, across the hall from his old party colleagues, he still represents a moderate faction of senators that will form the crux of many legislative negotiations in the upper chamber." While Democrats "could influence his thinking," Specter "may prove both as troublesome — and, alternately, as friendly — to both parties as he was yesterday." [Atlantic]

• Eric Kleefeld examines the demographic trends in Pennsylvania, and concludes that Specter's "choices other than retirement were to run as a Republican and probably lose the primary, run as an independent and face some serious structural disadvantages, or to take a chance on going over to the Democrats. And given those sets of probabilities, switching to the Dems became the obvious choice." [TPM DC]

• Josh Marshall wonders what, if anything, Democrats offered Specter. [TPM]

• Matt Yglesias points out that Specter "was exactly what he claimed to be — a Republican who was less conservative than many other Republicans." Despite his moderate credentials, he was still further to the right than four other Republican senators, which means "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." [Think Progress]

• Ta-Nehisi Coates asks, "Can the Palin\Limbaugh wing continuing [sic] to dominate like this?" [Atlantic]

• Megan McArdle doesn't think this is "a good sign for the future of the Republican party," but recalls that Jim Jeffords, who once tilted the balance of the Senate when he switched from being a Republican to an independent, didn't turn out to be such a "savvy political prognosticator." [Atlantic]

• Michelle Malkin tells Specter, "Don’t let the door hit you on the way out." [Michelle Malkin]

• Matt Welch believes that by tying his switch to the stimulus vote, "Specter reinforces whatever notion there is that stimuli and bailouts are Democratic, not Republican, pet toys," which may "come back to haunt Democrats when those policies (inevitably, I think) become so derided that even Barack Obama's impressive popularity can't rescue them." [Hit & Run/Reason]

• Paul Krugman is struck by "the extent to which this is a self-inflicted wound. If Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth weren’t so diligent about enforcing supply-side purity; if Republicans hadn’t made Rush Limbaugh the effective head of the party; Specter might still be GOP, and the Obama agenda much more limited." [Conscience of a Liberal/NYT]

• Eric Trager agrees, noting that "Republicans do not help their prospects by rejecting a figure from their own party who has long represented state-wide political consensus. Granted, a left-wing Republican might not serve many Republicans’ policy priorities effectively - but neither will representation by two Senate Democrats." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Nate Silver sees this as a manifestation of what he calls the Republican Death Spiral. [Five Thirty Eight]

Earlier: Arlen Specter Gives Democrats 60 Seats