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April 29th, 2009
06:35 PM ET

The Back Story on the Specter Defection

John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. He writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast and is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "John Avlon writes that centrists have been forced to the margins of the Republican party."]

By John Avlon
Special to CNN

Senator Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats yesterday will bring the Democrats to a filibuster proof 60 seat majority once Al Franken is seated.  This is bad for believers in the virtue of checks and balances, but the reality is that Republicans have only themselves to blame.

Centrists have been forced to the margins of the Republican Party, as the party itself has been forced to the margins of American politics. The two dynamics are, of course, directly connected.

In his press conference, Specter named Joe Lieberman as his political soul mate, a man who lost a Democratic primary to a left-wing anti-war candidate but easily won re-election as an Independent in Connecticut.  But his real and rightful anger was directed at conservative activists who have targeted centrist Republican incumbents in recent years, including Specter.

Among these ranks have been Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, Maryland Congressman Wayne Gilchrist and New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson.  All were challenged by conservatives backed by the Club for Growth who were cheered on by right-wing radio.  All lost their primary challenges.  And all the victorious conservatives were easily beaten in the general election by Democrats.

This is the dynamic that has led the Republican Party into retreat and increasing irrelevance, preaching to a shrinking choir instead of building a big tent.  Senator Specter was acting in self-interest – he knew that he had a better chance of winning a general election than a closed partisan primary. 

But the fact that Democrats welcomed him with open arms while Republicans like Rush Limbaugh said good riddance after attacking him for years, speaks to the shifting fault-lines below what could be a larger, Obama-led realignment.

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Maria NYC

    Well said, John!

    I am appreciative of your candor, especially given that you worked for a Republican candidate. Then again, Giuliani was no typical Republican. There is no doubt that the "Republican" party has been hijacked by the loud mouths on the right, leaving the centrists behind, shamed into being moderates.

    My objection to the "Republican" argument that a 60-vote Democratic majority is bad for the country, is voiced in one simple question. "Where were you "republicans" when you were the majority, ruling all three branches of the country's power.

    Where were those "voices of dissent"?

    I don't recall any Republicans voicing protest to their own ominous majority during the past 8 years. In fact, I remember hearing about their terrible abuse of power in the senate and squashing the voices of the Democrats who were in the minority, and thus unable to brake the country's descent into chaos, giving a green light to all the initiatives that came from the Bush Cheney team.

    It all smells of hipocrisy.

    Where were you Republicans when you were the majority?

    I agree with everything else you said, John. And I do agree that there is a need for another party –not necessarily the Republicans– to get in there and present another good and viable option to the Democrats. Gotta keep them on their toes.

    I think it'll be a long time before any of us trust anyone who labels themselves a Republican.

    April 29, 2009 at 7:40 pm |