How to alienate friends and lose GOP moderates

Arlen Specter is now a Democrat, which means that: Minnesota election law lawyers are going to get to triple their fees overnight; and We’re going to get to see how the GOP handles defectors, in much the same way that Democrats had to deal with people like Richard Shelby back in 1994.  So far, I’m ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Arlen Specter is now a Democrat, which means that:

Minnesota election law lawyers are going to get to triple their fees overnight; and We're going to get to see how the GOP handles defectors, in much the same way that Democrats had to deal with people like Richard Shelby back in 1994. 

So far, I'm not encouraged.  Here's GOP chair Michael Steele's written statement

Arlen Specter is now a Democrat, which means that:

  • Minnesota election law lawyers are going to get to triple their fees overnight; and
  • We’re going to get to see how the GOP handles defectors, in much the same way that Democrats had to deal with people like Richard Shelby back in 1994. 

So far, I’m not encouraged.  Here’s GOP chair Michael Steele’s written statement

Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not. Let’s be honest — Sen. Specter didn’t leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.

This is pretty incoherent.  If Specter really did have a left-wing voting record, then why wouldn’t he leave based on principle as well as personal interest? 

Second, if GOP leaders keeps talking like this, then Democrats won’t have to wait for Al Franken to be seated to have a filibuster-proof majority. 

Politico’s Martin Kady II and John Bresnehan report on Senator Olympia Snowe’s reaction

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) a fellow moderate, didn’t seem surprised. On the national level, she says, "you haven’t certainly heard warm encouraging words of how they [Republicans] view moderates. Either you are with us or against us."

“Ultimately we’re heading to having the smallest political tent in history they way things are unfolding,” Snowe said. “We should have learned from the 2006 election, which I was a party of. I happened to win with 74% of the vote in a blue collar state but no one asked me how did you do it. Seems to me that would have been the first question that would have come from the Republican party to find out so we could avoid further losses."

There might be more conservatives than liberals in the United States, but there’s an awful lot more centrists than conservatives.  Playing to the rump might provide some ideological comfort, but it’s also a sure-fire method to becoming the minority party for the next generation.  If the GOP keeps this up, Snowe’s prediction will likely come true. 

Ramesh Ponnuru gets this:  "The Democrats are growing by appealing to formerly Republican moderates while the GOP is being reduced to a conservative rump."

One odd foreign policy effect out of all of this:  Obama’s bargaining position on some issues with the rest of the world might actually be weakened.  Domestic constraints can sometimes function as a source of bargaining strength on the international stage.  At this point, however, the domestic constraints Obama faces seem ever smaller, even if things haven’t changed all that much in practice

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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