DAVID GREENE, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm David Greene.
Back during his campaign, President Obama promised a new spirit of cooperation in Washington, but it seems now the honeymoon is over, if ever there really was one. Longtime Republican Senator Arlen Specter said the party has shifted toward the far right. He's announced his defection to the Democrats, just as David Souter announced his retirement from the Supreme Court.
And that's setting the stage for a potentially contentious confirmation process. And in the GOP's weekly radio and Internet address, Representative Lynn Jenkins of Kansas characterized Mr. Obama's first hundred days as a period of spending, taxing and borrowing.
Talking about all of this with us this morning is NPR's news analyst Juan Williams, who's in Cleveland this morning. Good morning, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So there's this label out there that the Republicans are the party of no. Is that still applying and what's their message right now?
WILLIAMS: Well, their message is we're looking for solutions. Right now, Eric Cantor, the Republican in the House from Virginia, is out there, he's beginning some sort of tour to try to hear what people want from the Republican Party as it goes forward. He's also got a solutions Web site out there. Again, they try to draw people in to see Republicans as offering solutions as opposed to simply saying no to President Obama.
GREENE: Well, before we continue, I want to hear one person talking about the party. This is what Senator Arlen Specter had to say at a press conference earlier this week about why he left the GOP.
Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Democrat, Pennsylvania): As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.
GREENE: So Juan, some conservative commentators are saying this defection is a case of purifying the GOP. I mean, is the GOP shrinking or is something else going on?
WILLIAMS: Well, if it's purifying, you're burning away a lot of people who once identified with the party, David. I mean, you look right now at something so simple as party identification and you see there's an increasing gap between people who self-identify as Democrats and those who self-identify as Republicans. Pew had a poll this week - 51-35 now - so that's a pretty substantial gap.
And then if you look at the key swing states, the states that make a difference when it comes to presidential races, for example, that again, what you see there is Democrats now outstretching Republicans in terms of party identification.
So the party is coming now to being a party of Southern states. The exception there would be the two Republicans senators from Maine, a few from the Mountain West.
But the total opposition to Obama I think is what stands out. You look at the approval numbers. His numbers among Republicans are like 24 percent approval versus 60 percent in general and, you know, close to 90 percent among Democrats.
GREENE: But we've learned that things can look pretty bad for one party or the other and then, you know, within a period of years, short period of time, things can all change. What's the hope right now among Republicans? I mean, do they see an end to this and then some new era of glory sometime soon?
WILLIAMS: Well, they all talk about historical cycles and they talk about how, you know, there was a time when Bill Clinton back in '92 had control of both houses, both House and Senate and the White House. And of course then Newt Gingrich came on the scene and Republicans were able to revive themselves.
But then you look at '04 and there was, you know, Republicans talking about creating a permanent Republican majority. You remember Karl Rove's language on this?
GREENE: Very well.
WILLIAMS: And look at where we are now with Democrats, you know, dominating. So the great Republican hope of the moment is really that President Obama's economic policies fail and then they would be able to say we told you so, in talking about, you know, possible tax increases and ever-growing government under Democrats.
GREENE: In the brief time we have left, I want to talk to you about Justice David Souter. We had the retirement announcement this week. The White House had been anticipating a departure from the Court but maybe not Souter. What does this all mean for their search for a nominee?
WILLIAMS: Well, they were really - they're looking now for a woman because they really thought they were replacing Justice Ginsburg. And so you're going to see a number of women, and from the Republican side they're going to be pointing fingers and claiming that they're activist and interventionist and pointing out hot-button issues from abortion to school prayer.
GREENE: It'll be interesting to watch. That's NPR's Juan Williams, who is joining us from Cleveland. Thanks, Juan.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, David.
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