05/31/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Specter Defection Leaves GOP Frantically Grasping At Straws

The loss of Arlen Specter has spurred a bit of frantic hyperbolism from within the GOP ranks.

Hoping to rationalize the Pennsylvania senator's defection, Republican leadership has taken turns denouncing Specter has a heretic and arguing that a purge of moderates is exactly what the GOP needs. Mainly, however, they've been left grasping for straws: warning that the loss of their longtime colleague is the forbearer of dangerous political developments and at the same time the type of catalytic event that will lead to a Republican resurgence.

National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn set the tone when he said that Specter's switch and "the idea of Democrats in complete control of Washington," was "enough to make most Americans shudder."

"While Senator Specter's decision was indeed disappointing, it did allow us to realize -- perhaps sooner than we would have liked -- the dangerous ramifications of unbridled, one-party rule in Washington," the Texas Republican said in a post on the conservative website, Powerline.

Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) warned that "the danger" of the Specter defection was "that there won't automatically be an ability to restrain the excess that is typically associated with big majorities and single-party rule."

Fear over single-party rule certainly can work as an effective rallying cry. But noticeably absent -- except on the periphery of the GOP -- has been the type of introspection about the state of Republicanism that usually spawns a political comeback. Indeed, some of the top-ranking officials in the party have viewed the loss of Specter as the earliest signs of an anti-Democratic backlash.

"There is no more visible evidence that the American people are already rebelling than Arlen Specter becoming a Democrat," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). "He did this for one reason, and that is his advisers told him he couldn't retain his Senate seat as a Republican. In other words, the same people who supported him 6 years ago have soundly rejected him today. That, my friends, sounds like 1994. The extreme liberal agenda is not sellable to the American people. Just wait and see"

Others, meanwhile, have simply been unwilling to acknowledge that the GOP is in a bind in the first place.

"Oh, that's quite the opposite," Sen Jim DeMint, said, when asked by CNN's Rick Sanchez if the party was shrinking. "We're seeing across the country right now that the biggest tent of all is the tent of freedom. And what we need to do as Republicans is convince Americans that freedom can work in all areas of their life, for every American, whether it's education, or health care, or creating jobs." Sanchez replied, "What -- what -- what the hell does that mean?"

Later, the South Carolina Republican added that the GOP wasn't growing smaller, it was just moving south. Even later, in a quote to the Washington Examiner, DeMint insisted that he would "rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don't have a set of beliefs."

It's enough to question whether the party is reading the same polls that have been published for nearly a week straight: all of which show only 1/5 of the country associating themselves with the GOP. Even worse, as Greg Sargent noted on Thursday, the decline has been lengthy and precipitous.

"If you look at the bigger picture of the Incredible Shrinking GOP over time, it's striking," writes Sargent. "Since its 2004 heyday, the party appears to have lost roughly a forth of its base."