What’s Worse? Endorsing Arlen Specter or BEING Arlen Specter?
Philip Klein quite properly takes Rick Santorum to task for endorsing Arlen Specter.
In his column, Tim Carney does a good job explaining why Rick Santorum’s defense of endorsing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate race doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. But even if we were to give Santorum the benefit of the doubt in this case, his rationale for endorsing Specter undercuts the central argument of his presidential campaign.
Ever since Iowa, Santorum has been urging Republican primary voters not to settle. Instead of being lured into supporting Mitt Romney because of perceived electability, Santorum has argued that voters should “be bold” and choose his principled conservatism. He’s also emphasized that not only would he be more committed to governing as a conservative, but he’d actually be more electable because he’d be able to present a strong contrast with President Obama.
Yet in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate race, it was Toomey who was running as the principled conservative who was the choice of the grassroots, and Specter was the liberal Republican who establishment figures were backing for pragmatic reasons.
Let’s be honest: Rick Santorum “took one for the team” when he endorsed Specter. Toomey was electable in 2004, but Specter was a lead pipe cinch and much more ideologically malleable, which suited the purposes of the GOP establishment. So, they wanted Specter instead of Toomey and, Santorum was an ambitious guy who knew it would impress the right people in leadership if he backed Specter; so he blew it and compromised (Incidentally, so did George W. Bush).
Newt Gingrich made a similar mistake by backing Dede Scozzafava. She was the Republican in a threeway race, but the base decided to line up behind the much more conservative Doug Hoffman, who was a member of the Conservative Party. Newt decided to back the Republican in the race instead of the conservative in the race and she returned the favor by endorsing the Democrat after she lost, thus making everyone who made the mistake of supporting her look like a chump. Of course, Hoffman essentially did the same thing after he lost the Republican primary in 2010. He threw a fit and ran on the Conservative Party ticket and eventually dropped out, but he still pulled enough votes to guarantee the Democrat in the district a win. So, in his own way. Hoffman turned out to be almost as much of a loser as Scozzafava. In any case, Newt picked the GOP over conservatism and a lot of conservatives didn’t forget it.
Both the Specter and the Scozzafava endorsement have often been brought up in the primaries — and rightfully so.
However, there’s a key point that seems to continually be left out. If you look at his actual record in office, Mitt Romney IS NOT a conservative. He IS Arlen Specter. He IS Dede Scozzafava. He IS Charlie Crist. He IS Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s no more reason to trust Mitt Romney in office than there would be to trust any of those people. Yes, when Romney started running for President he started talking more conservatively, but isn’t that what Republican moderates in competitive primaries ALWAYS do? And don’t they turn out to be lying every single time?
So, yes, it’s fair to hit Santorum for endorsing Specter and Gingrich for endorsing Scozzafava. After all, years from now, the base will probably still be ripping the Republicans who endorsed Mitt Romney. But, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself a question: What’s worse — endorsing someone like Arlen Specter or BEING Arlen Specter? What’s worse — endorsing Dede Scozzafava or BEING Dede Scozzafava? Santorum and Gingrich are guilty of the first sin while Romney is guilty of the second.