This morning the political world was abuzz with news that Senator Arlen Specter left the Republicans to become a Democrat. Effectively, once Al Franken is likely crowned the junior Senator from Minnesota, the Democrats will have a de jure filibuster proof majority.
Republicans, for their part, were celebratory more than anything else. Speaking with Scott Wheeler of National Republican Trust this afternoon he said, “It’s a great day for Republicans and a great day for conservatives. The integrity of the Republican Party just went up.”
For his part, Wheeler takes credit for pushing Specter out of the party. After issuing a challenge that any Republican who supported the unpopular stimulus package would have a primary opponent, Specter took him up on the dare. Unfortunately for Specter, once he saw that he would be trounced in the Republican Party by challenger Pat Toomey, he picked politics over principle and sold himself to the Democrats.
Sold is the right word and in the coming days we will likely see what concessions he extracted. For starters, President Obama has promised to campaign for him next year which is no small token of support. However, in so doing, he has lost a powerful political role he (rightly or wrongly) held.
So-called moderates in the Senate are a powerful bunch. For instance, the “Gang of 14” wrote the policy on judicial appointments once the filibuster threats came out. Because of the hyper-partisanship (that still persists in the Obama post-partisanship era), moderates often are the key votes and can extract huge concessions for their votes. Those days are over for Specter because Republicans simply will not work with him again.
Democrats believe they now have a filibuster-proof majority, but likely what they gained on paper will not be that much in reality. If Specter wanted to side with the Democrats (as he is often prone to do), his party affiliation has never stopped him before. He’d cross party lines to break a filibuster. Now that he’s a Democrat, it certainly won’t give the Democrats any more filibuster-breaking votes.