Reaction from top GOP officials to the defection of Sen. Arlen Specter has been decidedly mixed. The less orthodox are interpreting the news as a validation of their biggest concerns, while the dyed-in-the-wool types wave 'good riddance.'
Acid-tongued conservatives have long viewed Specter as an Independent or even a Democrat in GOP clothing. And so when the Pennsylvania Republican announced that the R after his name would be changed to a D, the response was to celebrate the purge of moderation.
"A lot of people said, well Specter, take McCain with you, and his daughter. Take McCain and his daughter with you," talk show host Rush Limbaugh declared during the early hour of his Tuesday program.
"Let's be honest," read a statement from RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record."
The 'screw Specter' mentality seems expected for a party that, already on its heels, now likely faces filibuster-proof minority status in the Senate. But the more open-minded within the GOP see the reactions of Steele and Limbaugh as reflective of why Specter left the party in the first place.
"This is a sad day for the GOP," Michael Smerconish, a longtime conservative radio host in Philadelphia, told the Huffington Post. "He is what the party needed to be. They need to cultivate more Specters instead of deriding him as a RINO [Republican In Name Only].... The fact that Michael Steele is deriding him for his left wing record is just the same type of bullshit of playing to the base."
Pointing to a Washington Post poll that showed only 21 percent of voters identify themselves as Republicans, Smerconish concluded: "I think the number is down to 20 percent."
Meanwhile Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans in the Senate, told the Huffington Post Tuesday that Specter's abandonment of the GOP is "devastating," both "personally and I think for the party."
Indeed, when I spoke with former Senate moderate Lincoln Chafee about Specter's tough political spot roughly a month ago (when the prospect of a primary challenge had only begun to materialize) he lamented the litmus test that GOP officials are forced to take.
"It's enormous pressure, especially with the threats of primary," said the former Rhode Island Republican. "It is a no win. You are trying to help move the country forward and you have this small universe of a Republican primary in Pennsylvania, you are in for a scrap in it."
As David Frum, the former Bush adviser and a forward-looking Republican strategist, opined, shortly after Specter announced his defection: This is "another triumph for the Club for Growth."
"The Specter defection is too severe a catastrophe to qualify as a "wake-up call." His defection is the thing we needed the wake-up call to warn us against! For a long time, the loudest and most powerful voices in the conservative world have told us that people like Specter aren't real Republicans -- that they don't belong in the party. Now he's gone, and with him the last Republican leverage within any of the elected branches of government.
For years, many in the conservative world have wished for an ideologically purer GOP. Their wish has been granted. Happy?"