Arlen Specter’s jump to the Democratic Party has generated an intense amount of discussion from Republicans and conservatives about what it means when one of the three remaining Republican moderates in the Senate leaves the Party. The spectrum of responses has been predictable–many conservatives have simply resorted to attacking Specter and suggesting he had always been a closet Democrat (for 29 years? really?).
The most thoughtful response from conservatives and Republicans has been Sen. Olympia Snowe, Republican from Maine and self-proclaimed moderate. She penned an op-ed in the NYT recently about Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party, entitled “We Didn’t Have to Lose Arlen Specter.” Her op-ed is the most accurate portrayal of the Republican Party’s current state I have seen.
She writes, “Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities — indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash”
Snowe seems somewhat optimistic that the Republican Party will be able to escape its exclusionary tendencies that have emerged over the past few years. James Carville, famed Democratic political consultant, is more sanguine. He says, promoting his new book in an interview with the Huffington Post:
“I don’t think they can do that because their party would crumble,” said Carville. “It would be like at a time when people were saying you have to move away from African-American voters or something, right? Their party would crumble. That is not an option really available to them. They can talk about other issues and do other things, but once you have a Republican nominee, or serious Republican leaders who are pro-choice or pro-gay marriage, they are going to lose a lot of their voting base. These people will break off. And I don’t think that’s a real open discussion among people that really know what is going on in the Republican Party.”
Besides Carville’s analysis, there are two striking statistics in the Huffington Post article. First, the oft-repeated statistic that Obama won the 18-24 vote 68-30 over McCain. ***68-30. ***That’s devastating. But the most interesting data point is this: “In the 1950s, about four in five voters were married white Christians. Now only two in five voters are married, white, and Christian.” Of course, this looks like a doomsday scenario for Democrats, and Carville doesn’t define “Christian” (although I presume he does in his book, and it is probably “regular churchgoers). So while Republican ID with white-married-Christian voters increased to about 90% over the past few decades, Republicans have probably reached a maximum with that group, which seems to be declining in percentage of the American voter base overall. And certainly, pandering to the social authoritarian tendencies of that group put off others.
Exit polls indicate that Republicans had real trouble with voters outside of that group, and have been sliding. Unmarried women with no children, for example, went for Obama 71-29. (Married women went for McCain 51-49). That is an enormous gap. The Democratic share of unmarried voters has risen from 57% in 200o to 65% in 2008.
Republicans ignore Specter at their own peril.