They were wrong then. They are wrong now.
Reading the old, forgotten post was like blowing the dust off a mirror into the present.
Just like today there was an insurgency, albeit a small one. A villain, although by today’s standards a pretty mild-mannered one. Just like today, some of my conservative friends and mentors were worried about the ability of Republicans even to keep their current position in the Senate, much less win the place back. That old blog post was my answer to a couple of them who’d written what I thought were unwise and intemperate words.
Much as they are today with Ted Cruz and his fellow insurgents, my friends were shocked at the temerity of the Club for Growth’s Pat Toomey, the guy who’d challenged a liberal Republican incumbent, Arlen Specter, and sent him packing to the Democrats.
They were worried about losing the seat and, with it, Specter’s vote in the Senate.
They blamed it on the Club for Growth.
Today they would blame it on the Tea Party.
Then—as now—they were wrong.
Interestingly, there’s a name that provoked ire then just as it inspires panic now—Jim DeMint, then South Carolina senator, now president at Heritage.
These remarks by Jim DeMint are not what I’d describe as grounds for good cheer:
I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.
He’s missing the point.
If it comes to a choice, I’d rather have 60 Republicans in the Senate, however squishy some of the views of some in their ranks, than 60 Democrats who are all certain of theirs. Anyone who truly believes in limited government ought to understand that voting against can be as valid as voting for. If it takes a few Specters to see off a Democratic majority, so be it.
As for the idea that reducing the GOP to a rump of true believers (whatever that might actually mean: there are plenty on the right who interpret the terms “limited government” and “free people” in very different ways) is the essential first step in a Republican restoration, it is, I am afraid, a bad mistake. Wildernesses are, almost always, for losers.
In September of 2010, John Miller wrote about Toomey:
The 48-year-old Toomey is a natural-born optimist. Six years ago, he had the gumption to take on a sitting Republican senator in a GOP primary. He narrowly lost to Arlen Specter but finished as a kind of political folk hero among conservative activists. So Toomey figured he’d try again. At first, when the Age of Obama was young and the tea parties had yet to percolate, he heard from plenty of doubters. But Toomey makes a habit of dismissing defeatists and doomsayers. The success of his current campaign, which has seen him go from a potential also-ran in a bitter primary to the presumptive favorite in a general election, has only encouraged this instinct. On August 20, as we fly to a campaign event in rural Elk County, he points to the green wilderness beneath his airplane window. “Look how vast the forests are — as far as the eye can see,” he says. “If anybody thinks we have an overpopulation problem, they ought to come out here for a while.” It was the answer to a question nobody had asked.
As a third-term congressman in 2003, Toomey considered his next move. He knew it wouldn’t be reelection to the House, because he had promised to serve no more than six years. Yet he believed that he could still do some good in Washington. As it happened, the aging Republican senator Arlen Specter was preparing to run again on a record of waffling moderation that included his hostility to tax cuts. Toomey decided to take him on for the GOP nomination. His spirited effort became a cause for conservatives around the country. The Republican establishment, however, rallied behind the man who had been most responsible for defeating Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination during the Reagan years and tried to invoke Scottish law during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. President Bush showed up in Pennsylvania to stump for Specter. Santorum also took to the hustings for him. When the votes were finally tallied, the liberal incumbent beat the conservative insurgent by less than two percentage points. “I have no regrets about trying,” says Toomey. “The Republican party had lost its way.”
The decision to challenge Specter showed that Toomey was concerned about the GOP’s ideological drift before it was cool to worry. After his defeat, he became president of the Club for Growth, a political-action committee that funds economic conservatives. Toomey set aside his innate optimism and turned into a prophet of Republican implosion — a Cassandra who issued warnings that party leaders chose to ignore. “Republicans have abandoned the principles of limited government and fiscal discipline that historically have united Republicans and energized the Republican base,” Toomey told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2006. Six months later, his predictions came true as Democrats whipped the GOP in congressional elections. “Too many Republicans squandered the opportunity to govern,” says Toomey today. “They created a whole new entitlement for prescription drugs, exploded earmarks, and passed bloated appropriations bills. At a certain point, voters stopped believing that Republicans were the party of fiscal discipline and I don’t blame them.”
I love what John wrote next. Reminds me of another personality under attack from many conservative pundits today:
This willingness to criticize fellow Republicans came with a price. Many saw Toomey as too strident — a bridge-burner rather than a bridge-builder. Under Toomey’s leadership, the Club for Growth’s website mocked the likes of Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who voted for Obama’s stimulus bill, in its “Comrade of the Month” feature. “I don’t think there is anybody in the world who believes he can get elected senator,” grumbled Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, to Politico.
For Specter, things didn’t work out very well. Pennsylvania Democrats proved the old adage that once the treason has passed, the traitor is no longer necessary: They sent the GOP turncoat into a forced retirement, giving their party’s nod to Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral who was first elected to Congress from suburban Philadelphia in 2006. “We’ve got the starkest contrast between any two candidates in the country,” says Toomey. “It’s hard to get to the left of Joe Sestak.”
As we now know, Toomey dispatched Sestak in the general and finally took Arlen Specter’s Senate seat.
It turned out that my friends were wrong. I think they’re wrong now.
Now we not only have Toomey, we have Cruz, Lee, Rubio.
I’m going to do everything I can to help other like-minded folks join them.
Because they’re winners, and we desperately need more winners.