The moment was five years ago. Senator Arlen Specter was on the ropes and locked in a dead heat with little known Congressman Pat Toomey in the GOP Senate primary.

Republicans had to make a choice. Vote their conscience or vote strategy. It was the conversation at every political event that year.

I worked the polls that day and remember many Republicans came that day and said they were “holding their nose” and voting for Specter. They looked down on the “conscience voters” that supported Toomey. They said that the Toomey people didn’t understand the big picture. They said the Toomey supporters didn’t know how to play the game. They said the Toomey voters were unsophisticated.

They said that we couldn’t risk losing the majority in the Senate. Yeah, they agreed that Specter wasn’t a conservative but they just weren’t sure Toomey could win in the general election vs. then Congressman Joe Hoeffel and then we’d have a Democrat majority in the Senate.

So, many Republicans (including sadly, then Senator Rick Santorum) supported Specter to be safe. We were assured it was the smart vote.

Well how did the “smart vote” work out? We’ve had years of Specter torpedoing President Bush and the GOP. Pro-lifers never forgave Santorum who got trounced in his next election partly because his base never forgave him for endorsing Specter over pro-life Toomey. And now we’re facing a filibuster proof majority by the Democrats with Specter as a Democrat.

Let’s make it clear. If the GOP had stood on principle five years ago this wouldn’t be happening right now. We thought we were smart. We thought we could play the game. Well, we got played.

FOX News reports:

Veteran GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania intends to announce Tuesday he will switch political parties and run in the Democratic primary in 2010.

Republican voters had sent him to the Senate five times. But faced with the prospect of a strong challenge from conservative Pat Toomey in the GOP primary and the state trending Democratic, Specter jumped ship.

“I deeply regret that I will be disappointing many friends and supporters,” Specter said in prepared remarks to be delivered at a news conference on Tuesday.

“I can understand their disappointment,” he continued. “I am also disappointed that so many in the party I have worked for for more than four decades do not want me to be their candidate. It is very painful on both sides.”

The switch puts Democrats within one vote of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Democrats currently hold 56 seats in the Senate, and two independents typically vote with the party. Republicans have 41 seats, and there is one vacancy.

For a while the story’s going to be how the GOP has driven the kindly old moderates out of its ranks. But in the end, Specter needed to go.

But let it be known that Arlen Specter is not leaving because of some principle. Arlen is leaving because he was going to get beaten badly in the primary and Arlen couldn’t stand the thought of not waking up in the morning as a Senator.

And the only reason that Specter is in the Senate to betray us is because we betrayed ourselves first.

For updates on this story please check out The Other McCain.