The Specter Lesson: Moderate Republicans Like Christine Todd Whitman Must Lead GOP

It's time for a serious re-evaluation of where the Republican Party is heading.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It was January of 1995, and I was pregnant with our oldest daughter, working as a speechwriter at the Republican National Committee. My assignment was to help New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman write the first State of the Union response ever delivered outside of Washington, D.C.—she was going to speak from the state capitol in Trenton. More importantly, it was the first time in American history that a woman would deliver the response. Here's what she said to the nation in the wake of Republicans taking control of the House for the first time in 40 years:

Time after time, Republicans—and Democrats—have found that things work better when states and communities set their own priorities, rather than being bossed around by bureaucrats in Washington.

Our colleagues on Capitol Hill are facing the same opposition we did, the same cries of "it can't be done" from the Washington-knows-best crowd—people who think government can't be too big and that there's a virtue in raising taxes. Well, there is nothing virtuous about raising taxes. There is nothing heroic about preserving a welfare system that entraps people. And there's nothing high-minded about wasting other people's money on big government spending sprees.

We overcame the same objections, the same stalling and distortion, the same foot-dragging. We've heard it all. And in the end, we have won the battle of ideas in our states.

Now it's time to win the battle of ideas in Washington.

Hard to believe that was almost 15 years ago (that same daughter is going into high school next fall). In politics, some things don't change at all; other things can change very quickly, as we saw this week with the defection of Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democrats. Gov. Whitman writes in today's New York Times about that:

Unfortunately, a preview of the Republican Party's future came from the reaction to Senator Specter's switch—many conservatives evinced a sense of "I told you so" satisfaction and denigrated his service to the country. As was to be expected, the blogosphere is full of people saying that Arlen Specter was always a Democrat and now he's simply proved it ...

Moderate Republicans should use Senator Specter's switch as the impetus to force a re-evaluation of where our party is going—a review that can happen only from the inside. Besides, third parties in the United States don't have a particularly successful history.

In the coming election cycle, we have the opportunity to remind the nation that our party is committed to such important values as fiscal restraint, less government interference in our everyday lives, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach between protection and economic interest, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world. The responsibility of ensuring that the party follows the right path lies with those moderates who are willing to work to make it happen. I anticipate that centrists will convene in the coming days to discuss how we can return the party to the sensible middle.

Time for a serious re-evaluation of where the party is heading, and it sounds like Gov. Whitman is willing to work to make it happen.