Could Barack Obama have wanted a better headline to wake up to on Wednesday morning than some variation of the following?
"Will the last Republican east of the Mississippi please turn out the lights?"
With Arlen Specter's jump to the Democrats, that shrinking roll call includes the Maine Senate femme fatales -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- Delaware Rep. Mike Castle and just three out of the 29-member New York House delegation. Except for the aforementioned Collins, Snowe and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, there are no elected members of Congress in New England.
The blue trend of New York was consolidated last Friday when Republican Jim Tedisco (a long-time state assemblyman) conceded the 20th district congressional seat to newbie Scott Murphy. The Democratic National Committee wasted no time in gloating over the win -- and the importance that RNC Chairman Michael Steele place on winning the seat.
With a party deteriorating, it's not exactly wise for its chairman to further that trend. After suggesting that the RNC might support a primary challenger to Specter and two other stimulus-supporting Republicans, Chairman Steele sort-of backed down. Understandably, he unleashed a bucket of venom on Specter after this switch -- referring to Specter's "left-wing" votes.
But, does Steele really believe that having an ideologically "pure" party is really in his best interests? Even worse, the party is also just about as geographically isolated as it is philosophically. As has been noted elsewhere, the Specter switch puts Democrats within a hairsbreadth of a spot where no party has been in the Senate in thirty years -- with a filibuster-breaking 60-vote majority.
Even Patrick Buchanan realizes that the demographic lines aren't favorable to the Republicans. The party doesn't have to become an echo of the Democrats, but it should realize that it needs flexibility and diversity within its ranks. Not-so-subtly suggesting that an Arlen Specter shouldn't be in the party -- or urging, as Rush Limbaugh did Tuesday, that John McCain should also leave -- is a prescription for continued disaster. Unlike Specter, McCain didn't vote for the stimulus package. Just because his daughter has been expressing more liberal views than the rest of the party, why should a man who has served the party well be a target for expulsion?
It's statements like this that underscore why it's a disaster for Limbaugh to even be considered a "leader" of the party. Leaders try to expand their constituency -- not reduce it. And, based on recent polls, fewer Americans than ever are identifying with the Republican Party.
Specter's leap -- and Limbaugh's response to it -- says all that one needs to know about the state of the Republican Party after 100 days of Barack Obama. It's a party grasping for direction and vision -- and showing no signs of finding either.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.