Republican Party Fallout Over Specter, Media Coverage, and Matthew Shepard

A few telling reports show a party in turmoil and out of touch.

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Three news items in the Washington-based newspaper Politico caught my attention last week as evidence of the problems swirling around the Republican Party these days.

First and foremost was an article on the fallout after Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania deserted the GOP. Reaction to his defection to the Democrats was immediate and strong.

Some hard conservatives said good riddance because they never trusted Specter in the first place. A Republican moderate like Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine said the party virtually chased him away. There seemed to be little middle ground on his move.

There was no question Specter was thinking of self-preservation. There was no way he could win the Republican primary next spring after voting for President Obama's economic stimulus. That vote capped his long history of a spotty voting record as far as conservatives were concerned.

The most telling blow came from right-wing Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He was apparently willing to have an ideological cleansing by saying he would be happy if there were only 30 Republican senators if they stuck to small government principles.

DeMint is obviously not interested in any call to widen the tent for Republicans as has been the summons of new party chair Michael Steele. Because Sen. John McCain strays from the party line now and then, perhaps DeMint would be happy to send him packing too.

This argument could get nastier as the party looks for a leader to challenge Obama in 2112.

The second article was an op-ed by GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas. Smith sounded like a crybaby as he moaned about the favorable tilt to the press coverage of Obama.

Smith must have been back in San Antonio when the media went after a few of Obama's cabinet picks who had tax or ethical problems. And he obviously missed the tough looks at his massive budget and financial bailout. He must have been thinking more about his wacky GOP Gov. Rick Perry hinting at secession when the press made fun of Vice President Biden for his rhetorical gaffes.

Smith is the same House member who introduced an amendment to repeal the tough gun laws in the District of Columbia to a voting rights bill for the nation's capital. It was clearly aimed at killing the bill.

Conservatives claim the best government is the one closest to the people. Smith, however, would rather yield to the National Rifle Association and forget about local rights when it suits his fancy.

The final item in Politico showed a real ugly side of the party. Rep. Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, stood on the House floor and demeaned herself over a hate crime bill named for Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student murdered in Wyoming in 1998.

She said labeling the killing of Shepard as a hate crime was a "hoax" because the two convicted murderers were intent only on robbing the young man, a theory raised in their defense.

Shepard's mother was sitting in the spectators gallery in the House when Foxx made a fool of herself. Foxx owes an apology to the mother and her House colleagues as well.

The final item was not in Politico but deserves mention. Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota is a Republican who consistently puts her foot in her mouth. She said that while it may just be a coincidence, the last flu pandemic occurred in 1976, when another Democrat was president.

She forgot the election wasn't until November and Republican Gerald Ford was president, not Jimmy Carter!

Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News wrote that the state bird of Minnesota was not the loon but Michelle Bachmann.

The Republican Party will surge back in time, but not when a two-car funeral seems difficult to organize. However, it will certainly not be a permanent majority as envisioned by Karl Rove when George W. Bush took office.

A postscript: The GOP lost a big piece of its heart last week with the passing of Jack Kemp. The former House member and vice presidential candidate was a champion of civil rights. He was not timid about challenging his party, either. One may disagree with Kemp's economic theories, but there was no doubt about his dedication to boost minority rights. He was a man of decency and honor.