Karl Rove, Arlen Specter and the Self-Immolation of the Republican Party

Remember the old saying, "You have no one to blame but yourself" — well, in light of Sen. Arlen Specter's (Pa.) defection to the Democratic Party, that appears to best describe what the Republican Party is going through. But if the Republicans want to find one person to start blaming, they many want to give special attention to Karl Rove.

Years ago, while “The Architect” dreamed of a permanent majority for the Republican Party, he helped engineer a crazy hard tack to the right for the Republican Party that began the alienation of moderates and independents that the Republican Party faces today.

Even worse, rather than focus on an agenda of real ideas that actually addressed the real problems in people's lives (you know, crazy things like healthcare or global warming or poverty or energy independence), Rove helped lead the right-wing Republican cabal in the White House, the House and the Senate on a frenzied power-grab.

During the Bush-Rove years, it was less about the right change and more about changing the country to the right. Only problem was, the country and the electorate are not right-wing. In fact, Rove’s quest for a permanent Republican majority lasted as long as they could use the fear of terrorism to scare people into voting for them — about five years, give or take.

Rove's misreading of the American electorate was not only breathtakingly bad for a strategist, it showed a hubris that ignored the dynamic nature of American politics and the political and electoral limitations of an extreme right-wing agenda. I mean, for a guy who professes to know his political history, how bad is it that he seemed to ignore political history?

As for how extreme? Well, too many examples have already been documented by others, but for me it was Rove’s and the Republican Party’s fixation on divisive social issues, coupled with his politicization of the Bush White House, that basically said you could lie your way into a war (Iraq), ignore science and research (and logic) in your policy decisions, use the Justice Department as a political weapon against your adversaries, and — to top it off — disregard that unmitigated failure of your government to respond to the needs of your people in crisis (Katrina, obviously, but not far off are the millions more Americans who slipped into poverty or were left uninsured under Bush’s rule).

The amazing thing about all this is, even with Bush and Rove gone, the Republican Party seems intent on finding out how low it can go (in terms of public opinion, not to mention dearth of ideas). Rather than realize that Obama’s victory in 2008 was also a referendum AGAINST a right-wing agenda, Republicans burrowed down and decided to punish their own — which leads us to Arlen Specter (I guess this makes sense; I mean, they alienated moderates for eight years, so it stands to reason that they’d launch a war against moderates in their own party).

The defection of Arlen Specter is symptomatic of a Republican Party that is all but dying, because if you are a moderate in that party, you need to face the fact that you have no future there. Whereas Democrats, after their defeats in 2000 and 2004, became a more open party to — for example — pro-life or maverick Democrats, folks like Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) or Sen. Jim Webb (Va.), the Republicans moved even more to the extreme right.

With respect to Specter, a smart political party would have backed the Pennsylvania senator up. Instead, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was actually encouraged to challenge Sen. Specter by the very people who profess to lead (and I use this term very loosely) the Republican Party.

The problem for the Republican Party is that its current leaders — Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — have apparently drunk the Rove Kool-Aid — which basically means that they actually believe that America is still a right-of-center country, and that in the near future the backlash will lead the American people back to the Republican Party.

The only problem is America is NOT an EXTREME right-of-center country. Whether Republicans want to face the facts, voters see the Republican Party as an extreme right-wing party that is wrong on the issues, has the wrong ideas, is led by the wrong people and is wrong for the country. Not a recipe for electoral success.

In the end, Specter’s defection is a final curtain call for Republican moderates. The Republican Party is not just a minority party — it is an extreme right-wing minority party. And if Democrats win in the coming 2010 midterms, the Republican Party may be a minority party for years to come.

And, to that, Democrats from around the country should give a special thanks to Karl Rove. Because if Rove was an architect of anything, it was helping lead the Republican Party on the right-wing path to electoral self-immolation.