JONATHAN CHAIT MAY 7, 2010
I think it's pretty ridiculous to call a primary campaign against an establishment candidate a "purge." I recently opined that it's even more ridiculous when partisan hacks like former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen draw some metaphysical distinction between primary campaigns against incumbents in their party (good!) and primary campaigns against incumbents in the other party (purge!).
Now Thiessen has another post attempting to clarify his principles. It's even more hilarious than the first:
As for Specter and Lieberman, there is a critical distinction between the two cases: Lieberman was a loyal, down-the-line Democrat who voted with his party on all the major issues save one: Iraq. For his apostasy in supporting the surge in Iraq, this loyal Democrat was purged. Despite the effort to drive him out of the party, Lieberman did not join the GOP—he stayed a Democrat and fought for his party’s nomination. Then he ran and won as an “Independent Democrat” and continues to remain a loyal member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate to this day.
By contrast, Specter was anything but a loyal, down-the-line Republican who voted with his party on all the major issues save one. His apostasies were manifold—so much so that as soon as he faced a primary challenge, he bolted from the GOP and seamlessly joined the Democrats. He is as comfortable on the Democratic side of the aisle as he was on the GOP side—in fact he is arguably more comfortable with the Democrats.
Specter was not “purged.” He defected. Big difference.
Okay, first of all, Lieberman was hardly a down-the-line liberal who defected on just one major issue. He built a reputation for years and years as the conservative movement's favorite Democrat. William F. Buckley endorsed his first run for the Senate. He endorsed capital gains tax cuts and school vouchers, criticized affirmative action, scolded President Clinton when he faced impeachment, and was a down-the-line foreign policy neoconservative. The man campaigned for the Republican presidential nominee in 2008! Granted, his Democratic primary loss gave him the freedom to do so, but surely it tells you something about his ideological worldview.
Second, Specter surely annoyed Republicans in myriad ways -- arguably as much as Lieberman annoyed Democrats -- but the notion that he has transitioned into the Democratic Party "seamlessly" is absurd. Not long ago, Specter was a loyal enough Republican that ads like this could be made:
Here's Specter's record before and after his switch:
Not a very seamless transition, is it?
Finally, and most hysterically, Thiessen says there's a "big difference" because Specter left the party, instead of being "purged" like Lieberman. Gee, why did Specter leave the party? Because he was about to lose his primary race because he wasn't conservative enough!