Helpful Advice from the NYT to the New, Smaller GOP

After Sen. Specter's defection, the Times gives some no-doubt well-meant advice to the GOP: Avoid "ideological purity" and show more "flexibility" on both social and economic issues, or risk permanent marginalization.

Catching up onlast week's news. After liberal Sen. Arlen Specter's defection from the Republican party, a front-page story from Thursday, April 30 by chief political reporter Adam Nagourney and David Herszenhorn came headlined "G.O.P. Debate - A Broader Party or a Purer One?"

The tone of Thursday's piece followed the paper'srecent profile of Specter by reporter Katharine Seelye, who called the Pennsylvania senator "one of a dwindling band of Republican moderates."

Nagourney and Herszenhorn emphasized the need for the G.O.P. to be flexible on social and economic issues as opposed to "ideological purity" - a trait the Times rarely if ever discerns among Democrats.

A fundamental debate broke out among Republicans on Wednesday over how to rebuild the party in the wake of Senator Arlen Specter's departure: Should it purge moderate voices like Mr. Specter and embrace its conservative roots or seek to broaden its appeal to regain a competitive position against Democrats?

With consensus growing among Republicans that the party is in its worst political position in recent memory, some conservatives applauded Mr. Specter's departure. They said it cleared the way for the party to distance itself from its record of expanding government during the Bush years and to re-emphasize the calls for tax cuts and reduced federal spending that have dominated Republican thought for more than 30 years.

"We strayed from our principles of limited government, individual responsibility and economic freedom," said Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who is head of Club for Growth, a group that has financed primary challenges against Republicans it considers insufficiently conservative. "We have to adhere to those principles to rebuild the party. Those are the brand of the Republican Party, and people feel that we betrayed the brand."

But Republican leaders in Washington argued that Republicans would be permanently marginalized unless they showed flexibility on social issues as well as economic ones.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he would seek to recruit candidates who he thought could win in Democratic or swing states, even if it meant supporting candidates who might disagree with his own conservative views.

Mr. Cornyn said he was taking a page from Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the last head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who led his party to big gains by embracing candidates who, for example, opposed abortion rights or gun control....The debate broke out as the party found itself in a particularly dire state. Mr. Specter's departure came a week after Republicans lost a special Congressional election in an upstate New York district with a significant Republican voter edge; as such, it underlined the extent the party was contracting, not only ideologically but also geographically....Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said ideological purity was the road to success. "The best way to get to 60 is to have a core group of Republicans who really do what they say and stand for their principles," Mr. DeMint said.