A Surprising Conservative Lament: Why Can’t We Have Our Own Harry Reid?

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WASHINGTON — The prospect of a Senate without Harry Reid became an instant cause for celebration among Republicans when the former Democratic majority leader of eight years announced his decision not to seek reelection in 2016.

But underneath the deep reservoir of conservative animosity for the Nevada senator’s iron-fisted rule over the Senate lies a dark admiration for the former boxer’s effectiveness in advancing his party’s ideological priorities.

Some prominent conservatives say they want their own Harry Reid.

“Reid’s personal charm has let him run circles around Republicans. The former boxer has, even in the minority, been overly effective at obstructing Republican efforts. He has done so with a level of ruthlessness the Republican base begs its own leaders to use,” conservative activist and radio host Erick Erickson wrote at FoxNews.com.

He cited as examples Reid’s moves to nuke the filibuster for most nominations, to muscle Obamacare through under the budget reconciliation process and to make unsubstantiated claims in 2012 that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for a decade, which frustrated the Republican presidential nominee.

“The GOP could learn a lot from [Reid],” Erickson wrote.

At National Review, Charles C.W. Cooke declared “Good Riddance, Dirty Harry” in a blistering takedown of Reid’s ruthless rule over the Senate. Though he said the chamber would be a better place without Reid, he also nodded to the Democrat’s effectiveness in getting his way.

“From a purely Machiavellian perspective, there is a strong case to be made that Reid has been the most effective federal politician in the United States over the last decade or so,” Cooke wrote.

This brand of criticism is about Reid’s tendency over the years to stiff-arm amendments from the opposition and muscle through legislation under arcane tactics, earning scathing Republican criticisms and promises by new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to restore “dignity” to the chamber.

In partial defense of Reid, Fox News political analyst Juan Williams argued that he at least had legislative accomplishments and that his strict control over the chamber was a response to “the GOP’s antipathy to the president.”

“[T]he GOP’s inability to get anything done in the Senate for three months and counting is leading to new appreciation for the much-maligned Reid,” he wrote in TheHill.com.

New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks said on PBS Newshour that he “always had a soft spot” for Reid because of his “authenticity.” He added, “to keep 60 votes together among the very diverse Democratic body [for Obamacare] was — that’s an accomplishment.”

Added Michael Warren at The Weekly Standard: “So ends the tenure of one of Washington’s most petty, mercurial, and frustratingly (for Republicans) successful figures.”

Erickson made no secret of the fact that he wishes the GOP had its own version of Reid, implying that McConnell — who drew fierce Democratic criticisms for his pioneering obstruction tactics as minority leader to slow down President Barack Obama’s agenda — doesn’t fit the bill.

“Reid plays to win. Where Republicans tend to be tacticians maneuvering on a field, Reid has always been a field marshall looking at the maps, seeing what is ahead, and using tactics to shape an overarching and further reaching strategy,” he wrote. “The Republicans try to get through a week without blowing themselves up. Reid tries to shape an entire year to make sure the GOP is blown up a month before election day.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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