Arlen Specter's defection from the Republican Party is the "canary in the coal mine" warning Republicans they are on a path to electoral disaster. After two consecutive elections in which the party received "a thumping" in part because they were too conservative, the GOP had to choose between adopting the "big tent" philosophy Specter spoke of in order to broaden their reach beyond true believers or continue to cater to their shrinking base.
Proving the maxim that there is "no utility in the second kick of a mule," the GOP has adopted the latter course with a vengeance. The party has become afflicted with paranoia and outright derangement over President Obama spinning into a political tantrum that would make Christian Bale blush and which has only highlighted how out of touch the party had become.
Arlen Specter, however, comes from a long line of pragmatic conservatives, such as John Chafee or Nancy Kassebaum, who cared about governing and who measured success not by political points scored but by results achieved. This view is out of step with the Gingrich philosophy that emphasizes fighting the Democrats "with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true in civil wars." This philosophy is evident in the kamikaze obstructionism advocated by the current Republican leadership and is antithetical to the principles Specter has followed throughout his career. As Ronald Reagan said years earlier about the Democrats, it was not Specter that left the Republican Party but rather the party that left Specter.
Even worse, he watched his party be taken over by extreme voices who assumed (without any evidence) that for whatever paranoid fear they may have about the Obama administration (e.g., guns or the fairness doctrine), that if they can think it then the Obama administration must already have it in the works. Witness Michelle Bachmann's claim that the Serve America Act would turn into re-education camps for young Americans performing community service.
The tea bag protests, the ludicrous claims, openly wishing for an Obama failure and now even inane calls by some to secede from the Union have promoted and fanned the flames of fear and distrust (if not open hostility) of the government and/or the President, which runs against Specter's lifelong commitment to public service.
Specter's move clears the way for former Congressman Pat Toomey to claim the Republican nomination he nearly captured six years ago. Toomey is a rabid conservative who some are dismissing as cannon fodder after Pennsylvanian's gave conservative Senator Rick Santorum an 18-point pink slip. Toomey, however, has won by big margins in Democratic areas in the past and is much smarter and savvier than Santorum.
Specter's defection is both a gift and a warning to Toomey in a race that is a bellwether for the future of the GOP. It is an opportunity for Toomey to move past Obamanoia and recast the Republican message as something other than "no" and "same old, same old" and, if successful in such a battleground state, he will become the poster child of a GOP renaissance.
If, however, he fails to seize this opportunity and follows the path set by party leadership, I am certain that on election night my high school classmate will finally get the opportunity to congratulate and concede to a Democrat as he and other Republicans pay the price of Obamanoia.