Iraq, Katrina, and the economic crisis have cost Republicans far more seats than the Club. ~Jim Antle

Having made a similar observation in the past on another question, I take Jim’s point, and I will grant that the Club for Growth is something of an easy target and it and the politicians associated with it may receive more abuse than it deserves. It is an easy target because it comes across as an unusually unsympathetic organization, which insists on an exacting standard of purity on fiscal and economic matters. With its war on Huckabee, it seemed to fit the stereotype of the fiscal conservatives who couldn’t care less that the bulk of the Republican electorate is motivated by social issues and is not nearly so concerned about the capital gains tax. To the extent that their objections about Huckabee focused on his pseudo-populist appeals to working-class voters, they gave the impression that they were more interested in the corporate bottom line than the interests of core Republican constituencies.

One of the reasons I cut the Club so little slack is that they, like so many others on the right, want to insist that spending was the GOP’s bane, and therefore that adopting their recommendations will be the cure. Jim knows better, and he reminds us of the real causes of Republican collapse in order to defend the Club and Toomey against their detractors, but it doesn’t change the reality that the Club has promoted several primary challenges againt incumbents in purple states because of the incumbents’ lack of fiscal and economic purity and that this has worked to the detriment of Republican numbers in Congress. If Iraq, Katrina and the economic crisis were the things that destroyed the GOP nationally, and I would agree that they were the major factors, I have to question the narrative, which the Club must and does embrace, that claims that fiscal discipline and tax cutting will save the day as a matter of politics and policy. If Iraq, Katrina and the economic crisis were the ruin of the GOP, what does Pat Toomey or the Club for Growth offer that would remedy past failures?

More to the point, it seems to me that politicians and activists are accountable for what they decide to do. It is perfectly fair to damn Specter as opportunistic, unprincipled and untrustworthy after he has flipped to the other side, and he is getting plenty of that abuse (and not just from the right), but isn’t his primary challenger somewhat responsible when his challenge forces the hand of the incumbent and convinces him that the only way to remain in office is to jump ship? It’s not as if the GOP’s repeated routs were unknown to him at the time that he declared for the primary. The Club for Growth didn’t drive all those voters out of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, but likewise no one put a gun to Toomey’s head and demanded that he run against Specter again. Whatever other medium and long-term causes of Republican weakness, the proximate cause of Specter’s decision was Toomey’s challenge and his popularity with the shrunken GOP primary electorate. Barring some miraculous Toomey win next year, he really does have to answer for turning a likely Republican hold in the Senate into a safe Democratic seat one way or the other.

For that matter, shouldn’t Toomey’s fans be crediting him with forcing Specter out instead of coming up with ways to guard Toomey and the Club against criticism? One assumes that Toomey is contesting this race not just to make a point about discontent with Specter, but because he thinks he would be a better candidate in the fall of 2010. Isn’t any pre-emptive move to defend Toomey against charges of costing the GOP a likely hold in 2010 proof that what Toomey’s critics have been right that he cannot be competitive next year? After all, the criticism of the Club, as overwrought as it can sometimes become, comes from the conviction that they are simply terrible when it comes to electoral strategy. The states where their candidates prevail are reliably Republican ones in any case. It is in the purple states where their judgment is most on the line, and it is where they have been found wanting on many occasions in recent years.

All of this reminds me of something from last fall. At the time of the vote on the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the bill that created the TARP, I halfway defended the House GOP against the “charge” that they were responsible for voting down the bill, because it seemed obvious that Pelosi had the votes if she had wanted to force people to vote yea. Someone in the comments reasonably pointed out that they were instrumental in defeating the bill and should be praised for this, assuming that the bill was a bad one. On reflection, the commenter was right and I was mistaken. I think it follows, then, that if you are a Pat Toomey backer and a fan of the Club for Growth’s agenda, you shouldn’t be coming up with excuses for what has happened and what is likely to happen in this Senate race, but should be celebrating Specter’s flight from the GOP and bear the consequences of what that means in the real world. If you choose to do that, though, you have to explain why punishing Specter was worth the risk of significantly increasing the chances of passage of a health care entitlement.