It's hard not
to sit back and savor the recriminations and finger-pointing among Republicans over Jim Jeffords' imminent defection from the GOP -- expected in less than an hour. At a moment like this, good reporters can unpack such a family feud and get everyone to gripe about everyone else. This article
in today's Post
by Mike Allen and Ruth Marcus is a good example.
It discusses various dopey, heavy-handed moves from the Bush White House -- like Chief of Staff Andy Card (one of Bush's New England cronies) calling a Vermont radio station to muscle Jeffords into supporting Bush's tax cut.
(That would be the same Vermont that has a moderate- to-liberal governor, an independently-minded liberal senior senator, and a socialist congressman.)
Anyway, it's a good read. (Here's Frank Bruni's more analytical look at the same question in the Times.)
But a few points come to mind. First is that Trent Lott is the most immediate, big-time loser here. Not just because he's losing his job as Majority Leader -- but because he was already quite unpopular in his caucus to start with. And he is the most clearly expendable person who has his fingerprints on the Jeffords screw-up.
All the reporting seems to agree that Lott (and thus the Bush White House) really didn't know Jeffords might be serious about leaving until the beginning of this week, perhaps not until Tuesday. That's weird -- really weird -- because a lot of other people seemed to have a pretty clear sense this was in the works late last week. How they got blind-sided by this deserves a lot of scrutiny.
Having said that, I think it's right to see this whole situation less as a matter of bruised egos (or poor strategies) than the result of the structural changes in the capital's politics in recent months. (Not that I want to cut Bush slack or anything, but ...) Jeffords had never been in a situation where his party was in the majority in the Senate and had a conservative Republican president in the White House. This just brought out the contradictions of his position in the party to a degree he couldn't ignore.
Many Dems still blame Bill Clinton bitterly for decimating the congressional Democrats in 1994. But this critique, though valid in some respects, was always a shallow and unsophisticated reading of the political history of the 1990s. The Democratic congressional majorities of the 1980s and early 1990s -- particularly its underpinnings in the South -- would never have survived the incumbency of a Democratic president. It was like a great old piece of furniture which would do well enough if left in place and used gingerly. But try to move it and it would fall to pieces.
As it did.