He did it again. But no Republican should have been surprised. Sen. Arlen Specter has a long history of stabbing his party’s conservatives in the back. Ronald Reagan was one of the first to feel the point of his blade:

At the end of his first term, he voted against the Reagan Administration in two bitter, losing battles: to make William Bradford Reynolds associate attorney general, and Jefferson Sessions III a federal district-court judge. An even more bitter vote came at the beginning of his second term, when Judge Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court. Specter didn’t like Bork’s opinions—”in sharp variance from Justices from Holmes all the way to Chief Justice Rehnquist.” But he also said he didn’t like the possibility that they might not be Bork’s opinions: “Where’s the predictability?” Specter’s announcement that he would vote against Bork marked the end of that battle.

Nicknamed “Snarlin Arlen,” Specter is a tough customer. He has beaten Hodgkin’s lymphoma twice, survived a brain tumor and taken heart bypass surgery in stride. After emerging victorious from such battles, Republican presidents do not intimidate him in the slightest. George W. Bush can testify to this after having fought the Pennsylvania Senator over issues such as Guantanamo and FISA.

Sometimes he can be difficult to figure out. NARAL, for example, rated Specter as 100 percent pro-choice in 2007. But because he voted to override Bill Clinton’s veto of the ban on partial-birth abortions and also voted to support abstinence education programs, the pro-abortion group had declared in 2004 that Specter was “emphatically not pro-choice.”

Specter, whose lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is in the mid-forties, has similarly confused and angered more than a few Republicans. In his bid for reelection in 2004, Specter found himself in the fight of his political life, and it is one of the very few times in his career that he has shown fear. Conservative Rep. Pat Toomey, who now heads the Club for Growth, seemed like a sure bet to knock the Senator out of the race with a strong primary challenge. Specter turned to the same president he had defied, begging Bush for his support. He also called on Rick Santorum, whom Specter had supported in a key election battle previously, to help him out. Specter gave his word that he would be more of a team player if only Bush and Santorum would give him their support, which they did. As a result, Specter won a close primary victory over Toomey and went on to win in the general election. Santorum, who angered conservatives with his support of Specter over Toomey, was rewarded with the loss of his seat in 2006. President Bush would certainly have cause to second guess his support for for the Senator, as he would have to go on to fight Specter on stem cells and other issues.

That Specter would turn his back on his fellow Republicans when it was critical for the GOP to force Democrats to take sole ownership of the Democrat’s stimulus plan was pretty much a given. The Senator has a long record of bringing home the bacon to the Keystone State, and the stimulus is nothing if it is not pork. It certainly won’t be much of a job creator, unless government jobs is the unit of measure that will be used to judge it. Specter has admitted that there hasn’t been sufficient time available to properly examine the legislation, yet he joined the rush to support it. Now that Ted Stevens is no longer a member of the U.S. Senate, when there’s pork to be had, count on the Pennsylvanian to be at the head of the chow line.

Specter has already announced that he will stand for reelection in 2010. He won’t have Bush and Santorum to help him this time. As for Toomey, the former congressman announced last month that he would pass up a run for the Senate in favor of making a bid for the Pennsylvania governor’s mansion. Some have expressed the hope that Toomey, for whom fiscal restraint is the most paramount of issues, will reconsider in light of Specter’s shafting of the American taxpayer and the Republican Party by siding with President Obama and the Democrats on the stimulus. The wishful thinking is that Toomey will be so enraged over this latest Specter betrayal that he will reverse course and again challenge the Senator for his seat. With no cavalry to ride to the incumbent’s rescue, Toomey stands the best chance of anyone to end Specter’s career of undermining the GOP. That would would be a sweet turn of events for conservatives, who would back Toomey with no small measure of enthusiasm. 

Specter has unconvincingly argued that the stimulus was “the best we can do.” Let us hope that Pennsylvania Republicans will finally have gotten the message that they can do a lot better than Arlen Specter. 

– JP