Why Specter’s switch matters

WHY SPECTER’S SWITCH MATTERS…. Following up on the last item, talk of a “filibuster-proof” Democratic majority is a stretch. For one thing, Norm Coleman just received a powerful reminder incentive to keep his legal fight going for as long as humanly possible. For another, the Democratic caucus, even at 60, still has Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh to consider.

But if reaching the 60-vote threshold doesn’t make Arlen Specter’s big switch “huge,” what makes today’s news a seismic political shift? It’s further evidence of a Republican Party in steep decline, driven by a misguided ideological rigidity. Indeed, Specter suggested as much in his statement: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right.”

Jonathan Cohn’s take sounds right to me:

Specter is one of the better-known senators in America. If you follow politics even casually, you’ve seen or heard him on the news before. So it’s going to register with you that a major Republican senator has decided his party has become too extreme for him. And if you’re a Republican, you might wonder if it’s become too extreme for you, as well.

Of course, polls show voters leaving the Republican Party already. And not just in Pennsylvania, as Specter noted. The real significance here may be less about political change to come and more about political change that has already happened.

Indeed, it sends a signal to voters: the Republican Party is home to Limbaugh, Tea Baggers, Palin, right-wing blogs, the Rove/Cheney/Gingrich triumvirate — and no one else. The party that’s been shrinking to generational lows just got even smaller.

For three months, the conservative message has been that President Obama, his widespread popularity notwithstanding, is some kind of radical ideologue, far from the American mainstream. Specter’s departure from the GOP sends the exact opposite message. Moderate Republicans are teaming up with Obama, and leaving the party that has “moved far to the right” behind.

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