I swear I didn't know Specter was going to switch when I wrote my latest piece on the GOP's base problem this morning.
So what's left? How can a regressive, reactionary party continue to function as a national going concern when its message appeals to a shrinking and aging base, and when the nation's youngest voters reject it by a margin of over 30 points?
Well, it can't, not when its base (unlike ours) is dead-set on keeping its party outside of the American mainstream.
We're seeing this in action today as conservatives cheer Specter's exit from their party. They are purer, more conservative, and more southerner. Clearly, that's much to cheer for a movement that apparently loves being part of a fringe minority.
South Carolina's Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, however, isn't with that crowd.
Ideologically, we are a center-right party and I am committed to maintaining that position. However, for us to have national relevance we have to run and win in blue states. As a party we have to expand our base and diversify our membership while maintaining our fiscally conservative, limited government approach.
Center-right? Specter is center-right, and he's made clear that the GOP is no longer hospitable to him. Sure, his party switching is rank opportunism at its worst, but he was forced to do it because his party moved far to the Right. There's a reason that 200,000 moderate Republicans in Pennsylvania switched to the Democratic Party last year. Arlen has been left chasing those 200,000 voters, which are essentially his base. The Toomey crowd, the ascendent reactionary wing of the GOP, isn't going for "center-right". Their brand of conservatism is of the "far-right" variety, grossly out of step with the American (and Pennsylvania) mainstream.
Check it -- Republicans are now down to 40 senators, distributed in these states: AK: 1, AL: 2, AZ: 2, FL: 1, GA: 2, ID: 2, IN: 1, IA: 1, KS: 2, KY: 2, LA: 1, ME: 2, MS: 2, MO: 1, NE: 1, NH: 1, NV: 1, NC: 1, OH: 1, OK: 2, TN: 2, SC: 2, SD: 1, TX: 2, UT: 2, and WY: 2.
- Republicans are present in 26 states, which doesn't sound so bad. But it means that almost half the country doesn't have any Republican Senators. Only 14 states lack a Democratic Senator.
- Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire, and North Carolina (and maybe even Florida if Crist doesn't jump in for the GOP), are all top candidates for sending two Democrats to the Senate after the 2010 elections. That would further shrink the GOP into its deep South and Mormon Corridor strongholds.
- Of the GOP's remaining 40 senators, 17 of 24 come from the South (FL, NC, SC, AL, MS, GA, VA, TN, KY, LA, AR, TX). That's up from 15 after the 1998 election.
- Of those remaining 40 senators, only 3 of 24 come from the Northeast (ME, VT, NY, MD, PA, CT, DE, MA, NH, RI, WV, NJ). That's down significantly from 9 after the 1998 election.
- Of those remaining 40 senators, only 10 of 26 come from the West (NM, CA, OR, WA, AK, HI, MT, ID, UT, NV, AZ, WY, CO). That's down from 16 after the 1998 election.
- Of those remaining 40 senators, only 10 of 26 come from the Midwest (IL, MN, MI, OH, WI, IA, MO, KS, IN, ND, SD, OK, NE). That's down from 14 after the 1998 election.
So check it -- there is only one region the GOP dominates, and it does so with a solid majority. That's the South, and there's a reason it remains the only region in the country to have a problem with our president and the Democratic majority:
Lindsey Graham wishes his party was a national one, but until it radically changes to become more in tune with changing social mores, changing demographics, and the newest generations, it'll continue seeing its numbers hail just from the most regressively conservative states.