The grassroots war on Arlen Specter


Jeff Horwitz
November 16, 2004 12:03AM (UTC)

On the day that John Kerry conceded the election, Republican senator and judiciary committee chair heir-apparent Arlen Specter said that President Bush would be wise not to nominate judges who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Social conservatives viewed Specter's comments as a broadside against their agenda, and culture warriors on the right immediately mobilized against him. Specter quickly disavowed his comments and made a pilgrimage from the Wall Street Journal's editorial page to the Sunday morning TV shows pledging not to obstruct Bush's judicial nominees. A few fellow Republican senators vouched for his sincerity, and a forgiving Karl Rove declared, "Senator Specter is a man of his word, and we'll take him at his word."

But grassroots conservatives, who have been flooding Capitol Hill with phone calls, don't seem so convinced about Specter falling back into line. Jan LaRue, Chief Counsel of Concerned Women for America, a lobbying group on a mission "to bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy," told War Room that the Republicans' conservative base was determined not to let Specter off the hook. "Specter uses that word extreme to scare reasonable people," she says. "He thinks Rehnquist and Scalia and Thomas and Bork are all extreme, and that's nonsense."

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Still, LaRue claims that the deluge of phone calls against Specter was uncoordinated. "It's amazing. We didn't have to have a conference call to discuss what to do. We didn't even have to tell our constituents what to do. This is truly a grassroots reaction you're seeing here."

LaRue is confident that the efforts of CWA and other organizations like it will succeed in blocking Specter's chairmanship. That the Bush administration hasn't openly condemned Specter isn't a sign that Bush is ignoring his base, she says, but the result of "respect for the separation of powers." Likewise, she's confident that the muted response of Specter's senate colleagues means that they're trying to figure out how to dump him gracefully.

But other religious conservative organizations smell betrayal in the air. Last Tuesday, the American Life League ripped into the Bush administration for its silence on Specter and its decision to make Alberto Gonzales, who is less than staunchly anti-abortion, the new attorney general. "President Bush appears to be doing all that he can to downright ignore pro-life principle," wrote Judie Brown, the group's president. "Why is President Bush betraying the babies?"

LaRue reiterates that softening the party's stance on civil unions, abortion and other social issues is not acceptable.

"Poll results show that religious conservatives secured this election," she says. "We expect that the policies we believe in -- and that the president has agreed with -- will succeed." And if that comes at the cost of alienating moderate Republicans, so be it. "There are still several RINO's [Republicans in name only] in the Senate in addition to Arlen. You've got Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island who admits publicly he didn't even vote for the president. I think it would be far more honest if these folks would re-register as Democrats."

During Bush's second term, she adds, "We expect great things."

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Jeff Horwitz

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