All of the perks of majorityhood notwithstanding, there are times when it’s better to be in the minority. For GOP senators, this is such a time.
There is simply no getting around the fact that the voters used the recent elections as a hammer to smash the GOP: It was a stinging repudiation. And it didn’t end on Nov. 7. Ciro Rodriguez’s recent upset victory over Henry Bonilla in Texas strongly suggests that the anti-GOP wave is still gaining strength: Recent polling results point to the same conclusion.
So what would happen, God forbid, if South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson really did die and the state’s GOP governor appointed a Republican replacement, as the ghouls of the DC punditry corps have been endlessly speculating, thereby flipping the Senate back to GOP control — if barely (50-50 with Darth Cheney breaking the tie)?
By the same token, what would be the fallout if Johnson recovers (as thankfully seems increasingly likely), but Bush, instead, succeeded in seducing Party of One standard-bearer, Joe Lieberman, into joining the administration as UN ambassador, as Joe Conason recently speculated might happen: This again would allow a GOP governor to fill the vacancy (although it’s very unlikely Lieberman would take the job given how little time remains in Bush’s term)?
Personally, I think there’s little doubt about it: People would be mad. They’d consider it, at best, cheating and, at worst, a coup d’état.
The comparison beltway pundits keep making to Jim Jeffords’ jump to the Democrats in 2001 totally misses the mark: Jeffords flipped the Senate Democratic a mere six months after an election in which the Democrats gained four Senate seats (and in the view of many, if not most, Americans won the presidency only to have it stolen from them).
The Jeffords switch in no way undid a mandate for change; but switching the Senate to the GOP today would do just that. And the electorate would almost certainly burn them for it in 2008.
It reminds me a little of what happened to Wendell Anderson, a popular Democratic (DFL) governor of Minnesota, whose promising political career was ended when the electorate concluded that he had “cheated” in order to obtain higher office. A US Senate seat had opened up in 1976 as a result of Walter Mondale becoming Vice President. Instead of appointing someone else to the seat, Anderson resigned the governorship in order to have his lieutenant governor, who then became governor, of course, appoint him to the Senate seat. While, for myself, I don’t see any big problem with this, many citizens of Minnesota did.
They thought it was cheating. And the next election they slaughtered the entire DFL ticket, Anderson included.
The truth is that if Senator Johnson were to die, grabbing control of the Senate wouldn’t be a smart move for the Republicans. Over the long haul it would be much better politically for Republican Governor Mike Rounds to take the high road by appointing a caretaker Democrat or independent, leaving the Senate in Democratic hands.
This would also make it much easier for those incumbent GOP senators who face reelection contests in 2008 to avoid being tainted by Bush’s unpopularity.
So, if the opportunity were to present itself, would the Republicans have the self-restraint needed to forgo the perks of power?
You’re right: Not one chance in a hundred.