As these things go, the move by Sen. Arlen Specter (D!!-PA) to join the Democratic Party is at least a 7.5 on the political Richter scale. So much for the swine flu scare. The chatterati have switched direction with the suddenness of a school of fish.
Does it really matter all that much? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have some impact. Look, anyone who thinks that getting 60 votes on a cloture vote is now a given thing, even with the likely addition of Sen.-Elect Al Franken (D-MN), has not been paying attention. Democrats just aren’t built that way.
What it does mean, though, is that Republicans can no longer rely solely on the filibuster to assert their no-ness, because at some point the Democrats will be able to say “Enough is enough” and push things through if they have to. So yes, it matters, because now the Republicans will have to come up with something positive if they want to have any relevance at all.
On a broader level, the Republican Party takes a big hit, because Specter’s move reinforces the image of a party that is losing stature and momentum. Certainly Chairman Michael Steele’s petulant response was not helpful for the gravitas thing. The idea that the Republican Party is more and more the Grand Old Southern Conservative Party got major reinforcement. Republican moderate Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe must feel like they are in a remake of The Last of the Mohicans.
Of course, all this assumes that Specter wins re-election as a Democrat. You know the Republicans will pour everything they have into that fight, not to mention the primary, which now has even more meaning. You have to assume that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell surely had to green light this by way of assuring Specter the Democratic nomination. Otherwise what’s the point?
In the end, Specter acted out of a mix of principle and pragmatism. He goes from a very difficult primary in a party that has pretty much shunned him to a near certain election victory in a party that at least some of the time suits his political temperament. But this wasn’t just about politics. Specter is making a statement about the current state of the Republican Party that will be hard for them to ignore.
The Democrats come out of this looking like winners, but only if they can leverage their 60 vote margin into results. We’ll have to wait and see how much this actually helps President Obama get his agenda through Congress.