“The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” — Ninotchka.
Once upon a time — as we pointed out elsewhere — rightbloggers disapproved of purist liberal Democrats who were trying to drive moderates like Joe Lieberman out of their Party. This hunt for “heretics,” they insisted, turned off moderate voters, whom the Republicans, as Party of the Big Tent, embraced and brought into their winning coalition.
After the most recent Democratic victories, many Republicans sought to “rebuild” that Big Tent Party — but rightbloggers were less interested. The Party they traditionally supported didn’t need to embrace moderates — because Obama was so extreme that all good Americans would line up to his right. “Obama is attempting to use his election and the financial crisis to offer The Great Society on steroids,” ran a typical explanation from Kevin Holtsberry. “There is no real middle ground.”
When Rush Limbaugh denounced the attempts of the Party’s national chairman to pursue a more moderate-friendly agenda, rightbloggers actually defended the radio talk show host against the party leader. Moderation was no longer seen as the path to victory, but as a Trojan horse with which their opponents might weaken the GOP from within. “The willful misinterpretation of Rush Limbaugh’s remark is just one more attempt by the Democrats to mau-mau Republicans into the ‘moderation’ of endorsing errors,” said the catechists of the American Spectator. “The ‘unity’ which the Democrats seek through this hectoring propaganda is the unity of a ramshackle one-party state.”
The fruit of this brilliant strategy was seen this week, when moderate Republican Senator Arlen Specter, challenged from the right by Club for Growth president Pat Toomey, decided to switch parties. While this probably won’t change Specter’s voting pattern very much, it does signal to moderate Republicans that the GOP may no longer be friendly territory.
This suited rightbloggers just fine. They saw the Specter defection, not as a sign that they were on the wrong track, but as a welcome development in the purification of the Republican Party, and a harbringer of victory once the squishes learned (under patient rightblogger instruction) that there was only one path to victory, and that was the hardcore conservative highway.
Some were vengefully jubilant: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” said Michelle Malkin. Some were just vengefully vengeful. “Specter reminds me of the high-school slut trying to sleep her way to popularity,” snarled Robert Stacy McCain. Savage Indignation claimed Specter “uncannily resembles his undead namesake, convicted murderer Phil Spector.”
Some reported the news exactly as you might expect a national propaganda bureau to spin a lost battle: “Specter (R-PA) recently submitted final payment to the socialist-Democratic Party by delivering the rights of his soul to the Great Obamanation,” deadpanned Wisdom from the Realm.
Others — perhaps sensing that the general attack on Specter might look like sour grapes — celebrated more in sorrow than in anger. “Normally I argue for a big tent and the need to woo moderates by focusing on core values,” declared Hot Air’s Allahpundit, but “Specter betrayed those values in his Porkulus vote and cloture cave.” Moderates were still welcome, so long as they voted conservative.
“We hear a lot about ‘moderate Republicans’ and how we should honor and respect them and make room in the ‘big tent,'” said Pam Meister at Pajamas Media. “But what about those ‘moderate Democrats’ and their big tent?… Democrats didn’t make much room in the tent for Joe Lieberman, did they?” Considering that Lieberman, despite his rough treatment by Democrats in 2006, nonetheless took pains to vote for Obama’s stimulus bill, we’re not sure what lesson was intended here: maybe that purging moderates worked for the Democrats in the long run, and would do the same for Republicans. In fact, Meister showed an appetite for more such defections: “The question on everyone’s lips now is, facing a similar primary challenge, will John McCain follow suit?”
McCain wasn’t the only top Republican rightbloggers thought was bringing the Party down. “Let’s keep things in perspective,” said W. James Antle III at the American Spectator. Republicans voters who abandoned the Party in 2008 “were not kicked out of the party by the Club for Growth.” Rather, they were turned off by the biggest wet of them all — President George Bush. “There is nothing like a sustained popular perception of a failed presidency to send nonideological supporters of a party streaming toward the exits,” sighed Antle. “Pat Toomey didn’t fail to locate the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he didn’t commend Brownie on doing a ‘heckuva job’ in New Orleans, and he didn’t preside over a financial meltdown or mortgage crisis… So yes, if the Democrats get to pass nationalized health care they should erect a statue in a certain Republican’s honor. That Republican’s name is George W. Bush.”
Some rightbloggers insisted that Specter’s move was a double victory: in addition to purifying the Republican Party, it fed a poison pill to the Democrats.
“This is bad news for a number of Pennsylvania Democrats who were hoping to be able to run against Toomey in November 2010, and figured that the weakened state of the Republicans would ensure a victory,” said Jonathan Tobin of Commentary. And the Republicans’ advantage would be enhanced by… party-splitting Democrats! “There’s bound to be at least one left-winger in the state that will count on the moveon.org crowd,” said Tobin, “to get behind a challenge to a man whom many leftists still hate for his questioning of Anita Hill.” He stopped short of suggesting that Specter was a mole, sent by the Republicans to sow discord within the Democratic Party.
The Next Right tried this approach too: “Early reaction (Daily Kos, Glenn Greenwald, The New Republic, MyDD, Open Left) suggests Senator Arlen Specter has somehow managed to join a political Party that dislikes him even more than Republicans did… This will be a crucial test of who holds the power on the Left. Who controls the Democratic Party: the Party establishment or the progressive movement?”
And they don’t want the Republicans screwing with the formula, either: when a rumor surfaced that the GOP might solicit former Pennsylvania Governor and Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, to oppose Specter in the next Pennsylvania Senate race — certainly a practical idea, as Ridge has shown an ability to win statewide office — Erick Erickson of RedState warned, “Ridge is the only Republican who makes Specter appear conservative… If the NRSC were to come out in favor of a pro-choice Bushie in Pennsylvania, it would be suicide for their fundraising efforts among conservatives.” That would be a fatal return to Specterism and the days when, as Matt Lewis put it, the Party was “not in the business of electing conservatives, but rather, Republicans.”
There’s a certain logic to this. As they like to say of President Obama, rightbloggers are looking at a crisis and seeing an opportunity. Coalition-building may have given the more reliably conservative party a winning streak — but now that the streak is over, rightbloggers are free to dream of a more conservative Republican Party remade in their own image, undiluted by trimmers and RINOs. From that perspective, they see the Specter switch as a victory for their side, and look forward to many more like it — which is, among their many predictions of its outcome, the one most likely to come true.