April 22, 2004,
Conservatives are fed many bad reasons to support Sen. Arlen Specter over Rep. Pat Toomey in next Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Republican primary. Among them are that a Specter nomination helps make sure that Republicans control the Senate and the White House next year. The reasoning behind these pragmatic justifications is flawed.
First, Specter on the ballot in November does not help Bush win the Keystone State and its 21 Electoral College votes. On the contrary, Specter hurts Bush by keeping the conservatives home.
There are thousands of conservatives throughout Pennsylvania who read National Review well enough to know that their president has passed the largest new entitlement since Lyndon Johnson, has dramatically hiked education spending, and has pushed for illegal-immigrant amnesty. Why would the chance to elect Specter make these folks any more likely to show up?
On the flip side, nobody is going to show up to vote for Specter on November 2 and then decide to vote for Bush just because he’s in the same column as the senator from Scotland. Finally, Specter’s ability to raise funds for Bush is questionable, considering Specter is bankrolled by George Soros, Harold Ickes, Richard Ben-Veniste, and the union bosses.
No, the only thing that would energize the conservative base is the ability to elect Pat Toomey to the U.S. Senate. If Bush wants to make sure the flyover part of Pennsylvania turns out on Election Day, he would do well to have Toomey driving them to the polls.
The more sensible (but ultimately wrong-headed) argument for voting for Specter is that the GOP cannot afford to put another Senate seat at risk.
But Toomey will have, at worst, a 50-50 chance against Democrat Joe Hoeffel in November. Toomey, like Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.), will be able to tap the Reagan Democrats who are worried about their jobs, but go to church, own guns, love their children and oppose homosexual marriage for the simple fact that it is wrong.
And the Senate is not really at risk in 2004. If Pennsylvania is in play, there will be ten truly competitive Senate races in the country, six of them currently occupied by Democrats. Democrats would need to win eight of those ten races, and ward off possible upsets in Washington and California to get a majority of the Senate.
In other words, a Toomey loss to Hoeffel in November would not mean a Republican minority in the Senate, it would mean only a smaller but more conservative GOP majority.
Specter will take over as chairman of the Judiciary Committee if he is reelected. If he loses, the chairman will be conservative Senator Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.).
If the choice is between 53 GOP senators with Chairman Arlen “Bork” Specter or 52 Republicans and Chairman Jon Kyl, the decision is an easy one for conservatives.
Not only is the Judiciary Committee in charge of confirming judges, but it has jurisdiction over all abortion law. Specter has voted to use taxpayer dollars for abortion clinics, to affirm Roe v. Wade, and this year to gut the partial-birth-abortion ban of any substance.
By destroying Robert Bork’s nomination, Specter gave us Anthony Kennedy, who caved to court liberals in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 and upheld Roe v. Wade. We have Roe today because of Specter’s performance on the Judiciary Committee, and now conservatives are being asked to make him chairman.
A cynic might see in this another reason the White House is backing Specter: as cover for appointing a squishy judge to a Supreme Court opening. It would not be hard to imagine Bush’s liaisons coming to conservatives and saying, “we had to pick Al Gonzales. He’s the most conservative nominee Specter would champion.”
Specter’s Judiciary Committee would also handle tort reform. Specter has consistently opposed tort reform, and trial lawyers are his biggest donors.
Finally, there is a virtue to whittling away at the numbers of liberal Republicans. In a Specterless Senate, it is that much harder for Democrats to find a Republican to sign on to some awful bill and call it “bipartisan.” As the senior statesman of the Democratic wing of the Republican party, Specter emboldens the likes of Sen. Susan Collins (R., Me.) and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R., R.I.), and provides the most eloquent left-wing voice within the GOP conference.
Anyway you cut it, conservatives are better off with Specter gone.
Timothy P. Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.