In response to Josh’s latest post – in which he encouraged Tom Ridge to run for the US Senate against current nominee-presumptive Pat Toomey, I have to ask the question: just how much does Ridge help? Its true that, at the present time, Ridge probably has a better chance at beating Specter than Toomey does, but to fully endorse Ridge over Toomey, you have to make several assumptions about the state of the race in two years – assumptions that probably aren’t the best to make.
First and foremost, you have to assume that Arlen Specter will emerge victorious in the Democratic primary. That might seem likely with Barack Obama behind him, but Obama’s support could be temporary, or else very modest. Obama cannot upset the liberal base right now by supporting a moderate, former Republican over one of their own – he needs them far more than he needs a sixtieth Democratic vote (which comes with at least as many perils as benefits), and, in any case, its entirely possible that Pennsylvania Republicans will simply ignore the leadership and support a candidate more in line with their own views – much the same way that the GOP did with Specter. Since Specter isn’t much more of a Democrat than he is a Republican, and since his record is now clearly one of an opportunistic, self-serving politician, that isn’t at all unlikely.
Next, you have to make some extremely preliminary assumptions about the shape of the American political and economic climate 18 months from now. If, as is possible, the economy remains in a recession or some other negative or stagnated state, then President Obama’s popularity is going to be farlower than it is today – ditto for the entire Democratic machine. Despite recent bright spots (which are really just not-quite-as-dark spots), several perils remain that could lengthen, and even deepen, the recession. In the next year, America faces a likely second round of foreclosures, immanent tax increases, and the undesirable effects of whatever additional regulations that will almost certainly be introduced by the Obama administration – environmental and otherwise. Cap and Trade, stricter emissions standards, and promises to stifle any new bubbles before they emerge could very well combine to create another recovery that isn’t.
And those are just the foreseeable headaches America will likely face. There are a number of potential problems that we can’t accurately predict. Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Oil prices, Mexico, Swine Flu, Pakistan, Terrorism, and a whole host of other potential economic, political, and military threats could develop at any time to test the new President. I can’t say for sure whether or not Obama will be popular in 2010 – he could be as popular as Reagan in 1984, or as popular as Bush in 2008 – but history indicates he’ll start slipping soon, losing Republican and centrist support as he becomes embroiled in partisan conflict and the dirtier side of politics. Midterm elections are almost always bad for the incumbent party – witness 1986, 1994, and 2006. In any case, its probably not a good idea to try and use current polls to pick a nominee for ANY race in 2010 – we tried that with McCain, believing a moderate skilled in foreign affairs would serve us well, and as I’m sure none of us need reminding, it didn’t work.
Finally, you have to assume that having Ridge in that Senate seat will provide a significant benefit to the GOP. Since he’s a 63 year-old moderate who would likely be good for, at most, one term, that probably isn’t the wisest assumption to make. I don’t have quite the same problems with Ridge that I had with Specter – Ridge is, at least, Conservative on a few major issues, but I’m not a fan of supporting a moderate over someone who is truly in line with the party platform for any position within the Federal Government (I have fewer reservations at the state-wide level, I could support Ridge for Governor without problem). I can’t guarantee that Toomey could win, but I can’t guarantee that Ridge would be any substantial addition to the GOP in 2010 either (I know the argument about the 60-vote margin, but Ridge couldn’t take office until 2011, and I find it unlikely that no other Senate seats would change hand in the 2010 elections – that means Democrats are likely to either have or not have a filibuster-proof majority, regardless of what happens in Pennsylvania). Toomey, at least, has the potential to re-energize the Pennsylvania Republican party, and to serve, if he were to win, as the start of a Conservative revival. With Ridge, there is no such potential.