A look back to May of 2001, when Republican Senator Jim Jeffords switched from Republican to Democrat, likely offers a preview of the themes the press corps will advance again in covering Senator Arlen Specter's defection from the Republican Party. From the Thursday May 24, 2001 MRC CyberAlert (see link for complete rundowns):
Jeffords Defection Theme #1: Bush should move left to the center. CBS’s John Roberts relayed how a Democratic pollster hoped, "he may be forced to govern from the middle." NBC’s Campbell Brown pushed Bush to the left: "The President’s options? Political analysts say bi-partisan compromise."
Jeffords Defection Theme #2: Label him a "moderate," or a "maverick," but never what he really is, a liberal. Looking at ideological ratings, Jeffords’ record makes him 24 points less conservative and 25 points more liberal than a true moderate like Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine.
Jeffords Defection Theme #3: Blame conservatives for making the Republican Party too conservative. ABC’s Linda Douglass referred to his "frustration with his increasingly conservative party." NBC’s Lisa Myers worried about how he "was treated as a pariah in his own party." On MSNBC, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter suggested the Republican Party left him.
Jeffords Defection Theme #4: Scold the Bush White House for punishing him for working to eviscerate their bills. NBC’s Lisa Myers credited his departure to how "he is deeply offended by lack of respect from the White House and from key Senate Republicans."
Two more items from the Friday, May 25, 2001 MRC CyberAlert:
# Republican Party too conservative. ABC and CBS conveyed Jim Jeffords’ warning that Bush must listen to "moderates" or he’ll be a one-termer. CBS relayed the recommendation of one operative to reach out to "others who feel Jim Jeffords’s pain." NBC’s Lisa Myers put the burden on Bush: "This new reality will test the President’s promise to be uniter and not a divider."
# The networks assumed Jeffords had only noble intentions as they focused on approval by Vermonters. Bob Schieffer: "He was treated like a rock star." Jim Axelrod claimed Vermont "values principle over party." Tom Brokaw admired how he "embraced a flinty kind of New England independence." Andrea Mitchell called him "perfectly suited" for the state since "Vermonters say they’re not liberal or conservative, just socially conscious."
And from December of 2001:
Liberal Senator Jim Jeffords was warmly embraced by Katie Couric, who dubbed him "a maverick" and raved that he "is the personification of one man, one vote, and his story a classic of American politics." Couric gushed on the Today show: "Jeffords is a man at peace with himself, enjoying work on his Vermont farm, splitting logs, saving a few pennies with some inventive repair work on a wheelbarrow."