Specter's Future and the Perils of Excessively Transactional Politics

Ross’s column highlights the intellectual and strategic incoherence of self-described Republican moderates:

Others, like Collins and Snowe and (until last week) Specter, are simply horse-traders and deal-cutters, whose willingness to cross party lines last month to vote for $800 billion dollars in deficit spending tells you most of what you need to know about their supposed fiscal conservatism. They’re politically savvy but intellectually vacuous. Their highest allegiance isn’t to limited government. It’s to meeting the party in power halfway, while making sure that the dollars keep flowing to their constituents back home.

This reminded me of Mark Scmitt’s excellent essay from April of 2008 on John McCain, “Maverick or Maneuverer?”

McCain also discovered a unique means of exercising power during the Bush years, after almost two decades as a notably ineffectual legislator. When bipartisanship and common sense were scarce resources, McCain realized he could effectively corner the market on both. … Even when nothing came of these efforts, he was able to block anyone else from taking that center spot, perhaps someone who might have done more with the opportunity.

Specter played a similar role. Now, however, every “independent” gesture will be met with hostility from Pennsylvania Democrats, who may decide that Joe Sestak is their best bet. I’ve been criticized for floating an implausible scenario re: Pat Toomey.

As a Senate candidate, Toomey will have to connect with voters in a state hard hit by industrial decline. To have even the remotest chance of winning the seat, he’ll need to offer effective solutions on health care, energy and transportation. This might not come naturally to Toomey. But if he can pull it off, and if he can claim Specter’s scalp, he’ll become the face of a revitalized GOP.

Rest assured, I don’t think Toomey will suddenly engage in some kind of major reversal. And so I don’t think he has much of a shot in 2010 against Specter or Sestak. I am, however, more sanguine about the prospect of a Tom Ridge candidacy. Daniel is skeptical.

The desperate national Republican moves to recruit Tom Ridge or some other Specter-like replacement makes Toomey’s nomination all the more likely, as it was heavy-handed national Republican interference on behalf of Specter five years ago that thwarted Toomey’s run then and enraged conservative activists. Having lost Specter, they cannot now stop Toomey.

How far out is Pennsylvania’s Republican primary electorate? Ridge is more personable and charismatic, he has a more appealing personal story, and he’s from Erie. That might not be enough. But it’s a promising basis for a reformerish campaign. My main concern is — why would Ridge bother? It would be a lot of work for a job that doesn’t strike me as terribly appealing. That, alas, is a deeper question.