Can Olympia Snowe be far behind?
I'm going to take this opportunity to say a few words about the national GOP. And I say this as someone who, I think, can fairly claim to have been one of the more astute and accurate chroniclers and prognosticators of the decline and fall of the Republican Party for the past few years. (See here, here, and here, for a few examples.)
The biggest thing I've been following, and will be following, in the 2010 national election cycle is the Republican nominating process. All across the country, there are many, many Senate and Governor races that Republicans can potentially win. It is most likely that they will piss away many of these opportunities, as they have repeatedly in elections over the last few years, by nominating unelectable conservatives over electable moderates -- because Republican primaries are increasingly dominated by "movement conservatives," who are driving their party to an ever-more-irrelevant, ever-smaller minority.
This is exactly what has happened, of course, in Pennsylvania, where Specter was challenged by ultra-conservative Pat Toomey -- who, until last month, was head of Club for Growth, one of the biggest funders, year after year, of conservatives against moderates in Republican primaries.
Not only did national GOP leaders stand by without complaint as Toomey entered the race, they stood by without complaint as Club for Growth labelled Specter (and Snowe, and her fellow Maine GOP Senator Susan Collins) a communist earlier this year, presenting him with their "Comrade of the Month Club."
Bad enough that Toomey was going to beat Specter in the primary and then lose in the general, handing the seat to the Democrats. No, they had to treat Specter so badly that he switched parties -- so that not only will he easily retain the seat for the Democrats, but he just sent a huge message to the country (and the swing state of Pennsylvania in particular) that it is the Republican Party causing the lack of bipartisan co-operation in Washington, that Democrats are happy to welcome dissent and a range of opinion in their debates, while the Republicans are purging anyone who dares cross party lines.
And I guarantee you that this will be celebrated as a great victory and example by the movement conservatives. They will see this as a success, to be emulated against Vitter, and Grassley, and Bennett. They will see it as a reason to support Steelman over Blunt in Missouri, and Rubio over Crist in Florida, and on and on and on.
Why? Because the GOP electorate is primarily influenced by people and groups who have no interest in the GOP winning elections. They don't care a fat fig about that. They want a fired-up, excited base who will spend money on being told how angry and fired-up they should be.
Who are these groups and people? The tak-show hosts. The book authors. The magazine and blog site publishers. The interest groups -- including Club for Growth, but also US Chamber of Commerce, NRA, etc. etc. etc.
Republicans in office -- many of whom are well aware of the cliff they're going over -- can't stand up to this nonsense because they, too, would be tossed out.
The only hope for the GOP to reverse this inward death spiral is for their primaries to generate enough interest that the movement conservatives get out-voted by more moderate Republicans and independents. (That happened in the Republican Presidential primaries last year, which is one big reason why John McCain won the Presidential nomination.)
Unfortunately, the more the GOP behaves like an irrelevant, intolerant, ridiculous minor protest party, the tougher itis to generate that interest. Which means that the party is far from hitting bottom, in my opinion.