BY SUSAN ESTRICH
The Republicans don’t want him. The Democrats do. They would have booted him out. We’ll do everything we can to support his re-election. It’s a tough day when you leave your party, but being a hero certainly beats being reviled. The truth is that by the time he left the Republican Party, Arlen Specter was a man without a Party. As my friend Brian Goldsmith points out, “forty-nine states do not have a moderate Republican senator.” Forty-nine down, one to go, I guess.
My first campaign was for a man who went on to be a moderate Republican senator. Ed Brooke was running for attorney general when I worked for him. It was a long time ago. I was truly a girl. My father had gone to law school with Ed Brooke, and they played hooky together sometimes and went to the track.
Brooke was not the machine candidate, which is to say he was a Republican, and my father was not a machine kind of guy, which made him a Republican.
Republicans in Massachusetts stood for things like integrity and reform, civic responsibility; they were socially moderate, more conservative when it came to government power or foreign policy. Not many of them were black, like Brooke, but then not many leading Democrats in the state were either.
The Republican Party that my father believed in, that supported Ed Brooke and ultimately helped elect him to the Senate, just does not exist anymore. Where it does, it is being killed off.
The way to recover after a defeat is not to begin by shooting some of those on your own ship. That strategy leaves you both more outnumbered than before and less appealing to the people who don’t already agree with you on everything – which is to say, the majority.
If conservative Republicans were trying to reinforce the message that there is no place for anyone other than conservative Republicans in the Republican Party, they couldn’t have done better than they did Tuesday in responding to Specter’s announcement. No big tent for this crowd.
The Republicans have lost what little leverage they had in the Senate. They have put out the sign for “true believers only.” Facing a mid-term election in which unemployment is likely to be firmly in double digits in much of the country, they have neither a message nor a messenger, except on the subject of who isn’t welcome. If you were scripting this on the Democratic side, you couldn’t ask for more.
But it really is a sad day for anyone who has fond memories of a Grand Old Party that had room for a Rockefeller and a Scranton and a Henry Cabot Lodge, for Ed Brooke and for my dad, and even for a kid marching as a “Brooke girl” at the Topsfield Fair in my first campaign.
I got lost, but he won. That party is history.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer