David Frum

02.23.12

Pat Toomey: The MVP of Obamacare

It was an audacious move on Mitt Romney's part to attack Rick Santorum for endorsing Arlen Specter's re-election in 2004.

Yet the move paid off—largely because Santorum did not (could not?) offer the most powerful but also most awkward reply: it was the Club for Growth's 2009 threat to primary Arlen Specter that enabled the passage of the Affordable Care Act in the first place.

Sequence of events:

1) Arlen Specter votes in favor of President Obama's stimulus package.

2) Pat Toomey announces his challenge to Specter, backed by Club for Growth and other outside groups.

3) Fearing the primary challenge, Specter reaffiliates as a Democrat—just in time to cast the 60th vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

No primary challenge, no Obamacare. It's that simple. 

I'll claim some foresight here. I wrote in April 2009:

If the Democrats do succeed in pushing through national health insurance, they really should set aside a little extra money to erect a statue to Pat Toomey. They couldn’t have done it without him!

Pat Toomey is of course the former president of the Club for Growth who planned to challenge Arlen Specter in the 2010 Pennsylvania Republican primary. Polls showed Toomey well ahead – not because he is so hugely popular in the state, but because the Pennsylvania GOP has shriveled to a small, ideologically intense core. Toomey now looks likely to gain the nomination he has sought – and then to be crushed by Specter or some other Democrat next November.

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?