Specter doesn’t get it

Arlen Specter looks at the disasterous results on Tuesday for the GOP and concludes that it is time for his party to move to the left:

“We have just witnessed a seismic earthquake,” Specter said in an address to the Committee of Seventy, an election-watchdog group, at the Union League in Philadelphia. “There will have to be a fundamental re-evaluation of what is going on in Iraq.”

President Bush and Congress will have to find a way to stabilize Iraq, Specter said. “The Iraqis have to know we can’t be there forever,” he said.

In addition to the war, which he called a key factor in the losses of fellow Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and others, Specter said his party will have to become “a lot more progressive and a lot less ideological.”

Specter commended Santorum for his candor, but said Pennsylvania’s junior senator paid the price at the polls.

“Rick took a lot of controversial positions,” Specter said. “You saw the results yesterday.”

He blamed close Senate races in Virginia and Montana, as well as the loss of Missouri Republican Sen. Jim Talent, on the party’s opposition to stem-cell research. Specter, a cancer survivor, strongly supports federal spending on such research.

On other issues, he said Congress needs to take a closer look at how it spends federal dollars, noting that he is “one step away” from becoming chairman of the Appropriations Committee. More money needs to be spent on cancer research, infrastructure, health care and education, he said.

This reaction should come as a surprise to nobody. The moderates in the GOP caucus were prepared to make this argument for a while. And Arlen Specter in particular is prone to this type of talk. After all, this is the same Arlen Specter who after passing a budget busting amendment last year that he admitted was a “gimmick” declared the Republican Party “principally moderate, if not liberal.”

The latest comments from Specter are giving conservatives on the hill real heartburn. When Specter ascended to the Chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee he had some good conservative staffers forced upon him as well as other pressures in order to get the top spot. Now that the GOP is in the minority in the Senate Specter is said to be untethered from those restraints. This is cause for alarm, as he will be the principle negotiator with the new committee chairman, liberal Pat Leahy.

Conservative hill types are worried about an unhinged liberal Arlen Specter negotiating with liberal Leahy on behalf of conservatives. And they are right to worry. This scenario has trouble for conservative nominees written all over it. The worry is so great, that rumblings about replacing Specter have surfaced. But that would require very forceful action from the Senate’s new leadership who have yet to even be elected. There will be serious hesitancy to rock the boat so early unless the groundswell grows to levels unable to be ignored.

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