Specter's Exit an Opportunity for the GOP

And with Democrats bent on closing Guantanamo and charging former Bush officials with war crimes, you'd think the Republicans would be able to articulate a common-sense national security message that appeals to conservatives, moderates, and independents. After all, the public opposes show trials and favors keeping Guantanamo open.  So you'd think that would give Republicans something to rally around which would attract voters growing queasy about Obama's national security policies.

But the devil is in the details.  One man's diversity is another's heresy. And until Republicans and their loudest voices in the blogosphere drop the "check-the-box" litmus tests they will likely find themselves in the permanent minority.

The ancillary lesson to be gleaned from Specter and from the near-miss in the recent New York-20 congressional race: the GOP desperately needs young, attractive, and dynamic candidates. When the "brand" is smudged, the candidates must be better, not worse. When the "R" is a drag, then the emphasis must be on candidates who can outpace the generic polls. Even if Specter had stayed within the GOP, could an 79-year old bloviating figure like Specter have won under any circumstances? Highly doubtful.

This year will be a test of all of this. In the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, the Republicans have potential winning candidates in Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie who might rescue states for the GOP that have been trending Blue. Both are setting forth fiscal conservative messages, problem-solving agendas on everything from education to energy. And they have found plenty to talk about that won't be off-putting either to critical independents or conservative Democrats.

It will be a test for the GOP and for conservative pundits whether they can accept the message and the persona of candidates who have a shot at winning key races. Will they rally around Christie in New Jersey or throw the primary to a hardcore opponent with little chance in the general election? Will the Virginia state party continue its display of dysfunctionality or get busy turning out the vote?

If Republicans can get their act together in these races, Specter will seem a distant memory. And in the meantime, Republicans might want to save the blame game for another time and enjoy the liberation from defending a candidate who perpetually disappointed just about everyone and long since ceased being a dependable vote. Now he's the Democrats' dilemma -- unless voters decide they've had enough of political opportunism and lectures on Scottish law.