Republicans have clearly settled on the party line regarding Jim Jeffords: his defection had nothing to do with ideology. Rather, he saw that Strom Thurmond might not make it much longer and he wanted to be the one to put the Dems over the top, with all the fanfare and preferment that would decision would entail.
For my part, I never thought the ideological and self-interest theories of Jeffords’ defection were mutually exclusive. It makes sense to me that his motives were a mix of the two, that they flowed together.
But that aside, the Republicans’ argument amounts to an admission which has yet to receive much attention.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume Jeffords’ move was entirely mercenary and self-serving.
If there were any real prospect of the Republicans winning back the Senate in 2002 then Jeffords’ switch would make little sense. He’d just be trading a few months as a quasi-Democrat committee chair with no real chance of passing legislation for a return to minority status in eighteen months, and the prospect of mega-payback when the Republicans retook control.
Even if Thurmond did pass on to his great reward before 2002 the same logic would apply.
On the other hand, if the Democrats seemed likely to expand their majority in 2002, and again in 2004, then Jeffords’ hop would make a lot of sense on self-serving grounds.
In other words, the Republicans’ attack on Jeffords betrays their own unstated belief that time is not on their side.