Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitch McConnell

In Kentucky, Do the Interests of MoveOn and the Tea Party Really “Align”?

The sometimes contradictory nature of the grassroots conservative criticism of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparent a few weeks ago when one conservative group began to advertise against McConnell from the right. It turned out this same group, which rates members of Congress on their dedication to conservative principles and freedom, gives McConnell a 95 percent rating.

That doesn’t mean the group isn’t free to push McConnell on the other 5 percent, or that such groups shouldn’t prioritize high-profile and symbolic fights over more mundane votes in the Senate. Indeed, there is logic to that approach. But it does show why there hasn’t been, and doesn’t appear to be, any real enthusiasm for a primary challenge to the veteran Kentucky senator, whose term is up in 2014. And a Politico story today reports on the possible Tea Party involvement in what sounds like a truly terrible idea:

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The sometimes contradictory nature of the grassroots conservative criticism of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparent a few weeks ago when one conservative group began to advertise against McConnell from the right. It turned out this same group, which rates members of Congress on their dedication to conservative principles and freedom, gives McConnell a 95 percent rating.

That doesn’t mean the group isn’t free to push McConnell on the other 5 percent, or that such groups shouldn’t prioritize high-profile and symbolic fights over more mundane votes in the Senate. Indeed, there is logic to that approach. But it does show why there hasn’t been, and doesn’t appear to be, any real enthusiasm for a primary challenge to the veteran Kentucky senator, whose term is up in 2014. And a Politico story today reports on the possible Tea Party involvement in what sounds like a truly terrible idea:

Big Democratic donors, local liberal activists and a left-leaning super PAC in Kentucky are telling tea partiers that they are poised to throw financial and organizational support behind a right-wing candidate should one try to defeat the powerful GOP leader in a 2014 primary fight.

The idea: Soften up McConnell and make him vulnerable in a general election in Kentucky, where Democrats still maintain a voter registration advantage. Or better yet, in their eyes: Watch Kentucky GOP primary voters nominate the 2014 version of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, weak candidates who may actually lose.

“We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the tea party folks across the state,” said Keith Rouda, a field organizer with the liberal group MoveOn and the Democratic super PAC, Progress Kentucky. “What we’re finding — at least in this stage of the race — we’re finding that our interests align. It’s unusual.”

Local Tea Party leaders are not rejecting the idea of joining forces with MoveOn to help Democrats pick the Republican general-election candidate for the seat:

Sarah Durand, president of the Louisville Tea Party, said Democratic donors and activists have told her that they’d be willing to spend seven figures in a GOP primary to help a candidate willing to challenge McConnell. Durand said the challenge for tea party groups is to recruit a candidate who wouldn’t hand the seat to the Democrats, even though, she said, tea party leaders across the state are not satisfied with McConnell’s three-decade tenure in Washington.

Red flags abound. We can start with the obvious differences between McConnell’s seat and the successful tactic Democrats employed to save Claire McCaskill by helping to elevate a Republican opponent who would go on to say something so offensive it would effectively lose two Senate seats in one year for the party. In the latter case, it was an open primary among conservatives to win the chance to challenge an unpopular incumbent Democrat. There was no incumbent Republican to knock off to win the nomination. McConnell, in contrast, is a five-term senator with good fundraising numbers; as of the September filing, he has almost $6.8 million in cash on-hand. And with a 96 percent 2010 ACU rating and an 85 percent 2011 rating he should garner plenty of support among Republicans.

Durand, the Louisville Tea Party president, was plainly apprehensive about the general-election ramifications of primarying McConnell. She should be. As the Politico story notes, Kentucky Democrats have a party registration advantage, so although the electorate is a generally conservative one, it’s not unthinkable for a Democrat to compete. McConnell’s approval ratings are above water, as are those of fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who supports McConnell’s re-election. On that note, McConnell has broadened his Tea Party support, and brought more conservative members of the party’s congressional delegation under his wing. Between conservative groups and conservative politicians in the state, McConnell has made it exceedingly difficult for his would-be opponents to build an effective electoral coalition to his right.

Kentucky Republicans would also be well advised to take a glance at their putative allies in this fight. Normally, Tea Party groups grumble about the Democrats and liberal Republicans getting to choose GOP candidates, as they believe was the case with John McCain’s nomination in 2008 with some help from open primaries and party apostates like Charlie Crist. Democratic groups like MoveOn are quite publicly trying to do the very same thing here, and simply because they believe this will make it easier to take another seat from the GOP. As Politico reports, one of the leaders of a super-PAC looking to back a primary challenge to McConnell worked for Rand Paul’s Democratic opponent in 2010.

And it should go without saying that MoveOn and other liberal political groups are not exactly champing at the bit to help strong conservative candidates–they want weak conservative candidates. Do groups that give McConnell a 95 percent rating want to roll the dice on candidates that liberal big-money groups identify as the next Todd Akin? And do they really want liberal groups picking both the Democratic and Republican candidates in the next Kentucky Senate election, against the wishes of the Tea Party senator, Rand Paul? It may be easier to sign onto it when it’s other people’s money–in this case, leftist donors’ and activists’ money–but here that seems to be an argument in favor of resisting the temptation.

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Obama’s “Throw Rocks at It” Approach to Capitol Hill

Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

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Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

“He needs an Agnew,” RN said. “He did it for me, and he was first-rate–check his ratings back then. I did it for Ike. Ike was smooth. But when I went all-out against the Dems, and they went to Ike, he’d sort of shrug his shoulders, but when he saw me, he’d say: ‘Attaboy, Dick. More of the same.’” What if [John] Connally wouldn’t? Well, RR would need to find somebody who would do it. The Dems are terrifically vulnerable, but there isn’t anybody out there in headline-country who’s skewering them with their own vulnerabilities. It’s got to be done.

Contrast that with how Obama approaches his political fights with the Republicans. A perfect example was Obama’s bizarre campaign-style event at which he taunted Republicans about the fiscal cliff deal before the deal was even done. Rather than use his vice president–Joe Biden can be as vicious as they come, and he’ll always get a pass from the media–to shove Republicans around, allowing Obama to stay above the fray and look presidential, Obama does this himself while tasking Biden with the actual work of governing. Here’s Politico:

His apparent conclusion, after watching the implosion of the House GOP’s effort to pass a modest tax increase before the final fiscal cliff deal, is that the best way to deal with the Capitol is to throw rocks at it — then send Vice President Joe Biden in to clean up the glass.

The result is that we only got a fiscal cliff deal, however imperfect, because Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Biden and the two put something together. Obama has always been uninterested in the details, which is why we had to pass the bill with his name on it–Obamacare–just to find out what’s in it. And as the New York Times has reported, Obama isn’t interested in building relationships with either party on Capitol Hill. With an air of entitlement, he dispenses demands and assumes someone will always be there to clean up the messes he makes in Washington.

That someone, these days, is Joe Biden. But the roles can’t be reversed so easily. The public looks to the president to set the tone of an administration, and what they’ve seen in Obama’s four years is mostly petty and vindictive behavior. And it’s only a matter of time before Biden reverts back to his old “put y’all back in chains” self. Reagan’s problem, according to Nixon, was that he didn’t have anybody “throwing rocks” at the other side. Obama’s problem is that he’s running out of people to clean up the glass.

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A Bad Deal Beats a Calamitous Outcome

The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

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The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

I don’t believe that narrative for a moment. Most Republicans want to take meaningful steps to re-limit government, which is entirely admirable. But they faced a particularly bad set of circumstances, and it wasn’t at all clear to me what the game plan would have been if they had succeeded in blowing up the deal passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate. 

To have amended the Senate deal with the most minor spending cuts–essentially pocket change, given the level of deficits and debt we’re dealing with–would have been fiscally meaningless. And if an amended deal had led to no deal at all–which is precisely what would have happened–it would have been calamitous for House Republicans. There is simply no way Republicans could extract a good, or even mediocre, deal from this situation. They had to hope they could minimize the damage, retreat to safer and better ground, and think through a strategy on how to more effectively wage future battles with the president. Republicans can also take some comfort in the fact that Democrats, after having spent a decade demagoguing the Bush tax cuts, made them permanent for 98 percent of Americans. And as the dust settles on this deal, it may dawn on Republicans that Democrats, who presumably were in a position of maximum strength, didn’t get nearly as much as they hoped for. (For more, see Yuval Levin’s excellent analysis here.)   

Congressional Republicans who wanted to amend the deal sent to them by the Senate may have been engaging in a primal scream of sorts. They are enormously (and understandably) frustrated at the president’s staggering indifference to our debt crisis and their inability to do anything about it. And because this deal is so bad in so many ways, they wanted to vote against it. But if more of them had voted the way Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Eric Cantor did, they would have badly damaged their party and their country.

I for one am glad that cooler and wiser head prevailed and that this bad deal didn’t give way to a much worse outcome. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for in the aftermath of a damaging election loss.

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Incumbent Protection Plan in the Works

Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

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Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

From its inception in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the cause of campaign finance reform has been a futile effort to get money out of politics. But all the successive attempts to legislate limits on spending have done is to create new laws that only serve to make both politicians and parties less, rather than more accountable.

While Citizens United and the super PACs they have unleashed have been relentlessly portrayed in liberal organs like the Times as promoting corruption or undermining democracy, their real impact has been just the opposite. They have opened up the free market of ideas for both sides of the aisle, liberals as well as conservatives, helping to promote accountability. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents.

The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan. Incumbents are magnets for campaign contributions because everyone with a cause or an interest to be served by congressional legislation or influence wants to be in their good graces. There is no such incentive to help their challengers.

The mainstream media, which prizes its constitutionally protected right to exercise influence on elections, similarly looks askance at efforts to break up their monopoly on campaign information via campaign advertising. Citizens United has not injected more money into our political system, since money has always been — and always will be — an integral part of campaigns. Though incumbents will always have great advantages, what the High Court has done is to tilt the playing field a little bit more toward the challengers. And that’s what’s really got many of those quoted in the Times story upset. It wasn’t as the incumbents claim that the voice of the average voter is being diluted, but their monopoly on power. They want less democracy, not more.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has rightly pointed out, “the courts have said that Congress doesn’t have the authority to muzzle political speech.” But don’t expect that to inhibit politicians who would like to make it easier on themselves in 2014. Nevertheless, those Republicans quoted in the piece as favoring such limits ought to expect conservatives to remember their self-interested apostasy during the next election cycle.

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Finding an Alternative to Defense Cuts

With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:

“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”

McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.

Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.

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With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:

“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”

McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.

Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.

Democrats are demanding some sort of revenue-increasing measure to offset the defense cuts. Some possibilities that may not violate the anti-tax pledge could include fees related to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and an increase in TSA fees — but Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, told The Hill that it would need to see the specific legislation before deciding whether it violates the pledge.

There are also some actions Congress can take in late September, when last year’s continuing resolution funding the government expires. As the Bipartisan Policy Center has pointed out, Congress could pass another continuing resolution to exempt war funding from the defense cuts — though that could also mean that other defense programs take a bigger hit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has suggested that Congress could increase war funding this fall to a level that offsets the sequestration cuts, which is an interesting idea but would result in no real-life reductions. If it comes to that, then Congress should obviously do everything in its power to save defense; but considering our fiscal situation, it would be preferable to find other non-defense cuts to offset it, if possible.

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SCOTUS Hands Victory to Supporters of Citizens United

The biggest news out of the Supreme Court today is its decision on the Arizona immigration law, but it also handed a victory to supporters of Citizens United by knocking down a Montana law banning in-state corporate political spending. WSJ reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections. The U.S. Court said the question in this case was whether the Citizens United decision, which established that corporate spending in elections is permitted as a matter of free speech, applied to the Montana state law. “There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the Court wrote.

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The biggest news out of the Supreme Court today is its decision on the Arizona immigration law, but it also handed a victory to supporters of Citizens United by knocking down a Montana law banning in-state corporate political spending. WSJ reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections. The U.S. Court said the question in this case was whether the Citizens United decision, which established that corporate spending in elections is permitted as a matter of free speech, applied to the Montana state law. “There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the Court wrote.

The 5-4 decision — which broke across the same lines as the Citizens United decision — was a reaffirmation that free speech rights of corporations extend to state and local elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a long-time champion of this issue, released a statement praising the verdict:

“In another important victory for freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has reversed the Montana Supreme Court, upholding First Amendment free speech rights that were set out in Citizens United. As I pointed out in an amicus brief that I filed in the Montana case, a review of Federal Election Commission records of independent spending supporting the eight Republican presidential candidates earlier this year showed only minimal corporate involvement in the 2012 election cycle. Not one Fortune 100 company contributed a cent to any of the eight Republican Super PACs, as of the end of March, according to FEC records. The records also showed that of the $96 million contributed to the eight Super PACs through March 31, an overwhelming 86.32 percent of that money came from individuals while only 13.68 percent came from corporations and 0.81 percent from public companies. Clearly, the much predicted corporate tsunami that critics of Citizens United warned about simply did not occur.”

The decision is likely to prompt more cries from the left that the Supreme Court is far-right and illegitimate. While it’s a setback for the anti-Citizens United crowd, the decision wasn’t unexpected, and it’s not going to stop the liberal clamor to repeal protections on corporate speech.

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McConnell Defends Record Consistency

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

McConnell said the quote has been distorted by his critics, and his actual point was that the Democrat-supported campaign finance bill unfairly targeted Republican donors.

“I didn’t say I was in favor of [disclosure in that category]. I said if you’re going to go down that path, you can’t exempt everybody who favors Democrats and only cover those who tend to favor Republicans,” he told me. “That’s a misconstruction, a deliberate attempt to cloud what I was saying.”

McConnell added that it’s not necessarily disclosure that Democrats are seeking, but rules that would infringe on Republican supporters while carving out exceptions for Democratic allies.

“The so-called DISCLOSE Act conveniently carves out people most likely to be aligned with the left and only leaves covered those most likely to be aligned with the right,” he said. “Leading you to conclude, I think, that they really want to intimidate one side and leave the other side free to speak.”

And you can tell how critical this fight is to both sides by the number of crossbows aimed at McConnell this week. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus dug back to 1987 — two years into McConnell’s first Senate term and the same year a new cartoon called The Simpsons fist appeared on the Tracy Ullman show — to uncover a quote from McConnell supporting limits on independent expenditures:

As it happens, 25 years ago this week a senator from Kentucky well versed in campaign-finance issues proposed a constitutional amendment to allow limits on independent expenditures.

“These are constitutional problems,” the senator said, “demanding constitutional answers.”

That was Republican Mitch McConnell, arch foe of campaign-finance regulation — or, as he would put it, staunch defender of the First Amendment.

The senator brushes this off as a quarter-century-old mistake, and maintains that his record been consistent for decades.

“I confess I made an error, but I corrected it in pretty short order, within six months of that mistake,” said McConnell. “But I think 25 years of being entirely consistent probably would rank me better than a lot of people I know in this line of work.”

McConnell also didn’t seem surprised by the pains some critics are going through to raise questions about his motives.

“All the Post was left with was trying to destroy my credibility, and it’s noteworthy that they had to go back a quarter of a century to find anything that’s been remotely inconsistent on this issue,” he said.

These political boxing matches obviously aren’t new for McConnell, and in a way, he seems to relish them.

“Look, I’ve been called Darth Vader. I’ve got a whole wall in my office full of cartoons attacking me on this issue,” he told me. “They’d love to shut me up, but I’m more used to their criticism than regular American citizens.”

McConnell said it’s these attacks on private American citizens that has driven him to fight against the DISCLOSE Act and similar legislation.

“They try to be involved in the political process and all of sudden they find themselves being chased by the IRS,” he said. “Or what happened in the case of this one fellow who contributed to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, having his divorce records gone through by somebody from the Obama campaign.”

“I mean, normal citizens are not used to this kind of behavior,” McConnell added. “I kind of have grown accustomed to it. I don’t particularly like it, but that’s the price of being in my line of work.”

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Mocking Conservative Victims of Violence

The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

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The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

McConnell said he favors donor disclosure for those who give to candidates and parties–a position he has held consistently. He also said everyone should have to play by the same rules with regard to disclosure, rather than allow those in power to exempt their donors while singling out those of their opponents. But Hiatt, attempting to peer into the dark Republican soul of his imagined adversaries, has divined what McConnell and the Republicans really want:

They want unlimited contributions, in secret.

“Republicans are in favor of disclosure,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2000 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” making clear he was including issue advocacy — campaign ads with a thin veil of policy — as well as candidate spending. “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

That first sentence is undone by McConnell’s own speech. But what about that second part–is that the Beltway’s favorite piece of evidence, the smoking gun of hypocrisy?

No, of course not. Hiatt wants Republicans to drop their opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which would protect liberal interest groups while removing protections from conservative groups. Here’s McConnell in his own words:

This is the Democrats’ legislative response to Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court correctly ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker. The DISCLOSE Act aims to get around this ruling by compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same….

Because if disclosure is forced upon some but not all, it’s not an act of good government, it’s a political weapon. And that’s precisely what those who are pushing this legislation have in mind. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies. And that should concern every one of us.

Hiatt says nothing has changed except an influx of money to the GOP, suggesting that McConnell has been bought off by, I don’t know, the infamous Free Speech Lobby? But then Hiatt moves on to defending the indefensible. Part of McConnell’s speech was calling attention to the strategy of liberal groups, sometimes aided by government agencies such as the IRS, of intimidating donors to conservative grassroots causes.

Hiatt, in the most shameful sentence of a shameful column, writes off these intimidation tactics as conservatives merely “being called mean names by liberals.” But McConnell reminded his audience that conservatives have received death threats (I know private citizens personally who have been subjected to this), had their private information made public, had their children harassed by liberal bloggers, and have been the victims of a new liberal tactic called SWATting, in which a liberal blogger or activist will make a fake 9-1-1 call reporting a murder at the house of his target, to which law enforcement (often SWAT teams) will show up with guns out ready for a firefight.

Hiatt presumably does not need the danger of this explained to him, nor would he need a primer on why death threats are not merely “mean things” people say. He just doesn’t care. But he should at least stop dismissing acts of violence and mocking the victims.

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McConnell Vows to Defend Citizens United

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

The latest example is David Axelrod, who promised earlier this week that if Obama wins a second term, he will pursue any option — including a constitutional amendment — to restrict these rights:

“When we win, we will use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment, to turn this back. I understand the free speech argument, but when the Koch brothers can spend $400 million, more than the McCain campaign and the Republican Party spent last time, that’s very concerning.”

At AEI, McConnell blasted Axelrod and the Obama administration for the proposal.

“Amending the First Amendment for the first time in history is an act of radicalism,” said McConnell.

There are other indications that the issue of political money will be back at the top of the news this summer. The Supreme Court reportedly met earlier this week to consider a Montana case that challenges some aspects of the Citizens United decision and a subsequent Appellate Court ruling on unlimited political contributions. The Los Angeles Times reports that the appeal isn’t expected to be denied, and the Supreme Court may either decide to hear the case or write a summary opinion defending the Citizens United ruling.

McConnell said as the election nears, some Republicans may be tempted “to take the issue off the table or make concessions.”

“My advice is to resist the temptation,” he said.

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Senate Will Force Obama’s Hand on Iran

In a clear contrast to President Obama’s speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a hard-hitting speech to AIPAC tonight, promising to use the tools at his disposal to pressure the administration to take military action against Iran if it passes specific “red lines” that he outlined.

While Obama has also made it clear he’s open to using force against Iran, he has declined to explicitly state what Iranian actions would trigger a U.S. military response. But McConnell did not have the same reluctance.

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In a clear contrast to President Obama’s speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a hard-hitting speech to AIPAC tonight, promising to use the tools at his disposal to pressure the administration to take military action against Iran if it passes specific “red lines” that he outlined.

While Obama has also made it clear he’s open to using force against Iran, he has declined to explicitly state what Iranian actions would trigger a U.S. military response. But McConnell did not have the same reluctance.

“If Iran, at any time, begins to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program,” said McConnell.

The minority leader criticized Obama’s vagueness on Iran, and suggested that the president watered-down his threats of action by failing to use force in Libya and Syria. He also claimed the administration was relying too heavily on sanctions.

“The administration has used this same language about preserving all options in developing its policy toward Libya, Iran, and, now, Syria,” McConnell said. “Clearly, the threat has lost its intended purpose.”

McConnell said he would force the administration’s hand on Iran by introducing an authorization for military force in the Senate if intelligence shows Iran is enriching weapons-grade uranium.

“If at any time the intelligence community presents the Congress with an assessment that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon — consistent with protecting classified sources and methods — I will consult with the president and joint congressional leadership and introduce before the Senate an authorization for the use of military force,” said McConnell.

The numerous standing ovations from the audience showed that AIPAC attendees are anxious for clearly outlined proposals from elected officials, after yesterday’s vague assurances.

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McConnell: Iran Making “Idle Threats”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Iran’s warnings about closing the Strait of Hormuz as “idle threats,” during a small round table discussion with reporters today.

“This idle threat that they’re going to interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz is not enforceable. We have a carrier there, that will not happen,” McConnell told me. “So this is the time to squeeze the Iranians in every direction possible.”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Iran’s warnings about closing the Strait of Hormuz as “idle threats,” during a small round table discussion with reporters today.

“This idle threat that they’re going to interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz is not enforceable. We have a carrier there, that will not happen,” McConnell told me. “So this is the time to squeeze the Iranians in every direction possible.”

He added that the Saudis would assist with any fallout in oil production.

“The Saudis have already indicated that whatever reduction in oil production might occur as a result of this, they’ll make up,” said McConnell.

The Senate Minority Leader’s comments put him at odds with many military experts who say the regime’s threats are a real risk. The U.S. Navy has reportedly been training for a potential clash with Iran over the strait.

McConnell also blasted Obama’s leadership on Iran, saying that the president only ordered the latest round of tough Iran bank sanctions because Senate Republicans forced him to do it. Obama was required to institute these sanctions under a bill championed by Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez.

“We forced it on him. He didn’t want the authority,” said McConnell.

He added that Obama now has “greater tools to use on the Iranians. I hope he uses them all.”

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Senate Freshmen Decline to Join Tea Party Caucus

Remember that Afghanistan trip Sen. Mitch McConnell took some of the GOP freshmen on last week? At the time, some conservative activists worried it was a “ploy” to co-opt the Tea Party members of the Senate. And now, interestingly, some of the same freshmen who went on the trip — Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio — have decided not to join the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus.

In an interview with a Florida political website, Tea Party favorite Rubio said he won’t be involved in the caucus, because he thinks it will “co-opt” the whole concept of the movement:

“My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of Tea Party. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that’s happening in Washington D.C.,” he said in an interview with the Shark Tank, a Florida political website. “The Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians. It’s gonna lose its effectiveness and I’m concerned about that.”

What Rubio says is correct on its face. The Tea Party is a ground-up movement, and it would be completely inconsistent with its platform if Washington politicians began “running” it. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of Tea Party Caucus at all. The idea of the caucus is to take direction from the grassroots of the conservative movement and carry it out in Congress — not the other way around.

So Rubio is spinning a bit. But it’s not hard to see why. Politically, it wouldn’t be the greatest move for him to tie himself to a caucus, at least not if he wants to compromise and get things done in the Senate.

That might be why the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus hasn’t been successful in drawing members. The Hill reported that it currently has only three senators committed to attending its first meeting: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint.

The House of Representatives, in comparison, has a 30-member strong Tea Party Caucus, which was created by Rep. Michele Bachmann last year. But the Senate is also a fraction of the size of the House, meaning that senators need to compromise much more with other members in order to get legislation through.

Remember that Afghanistan trip Sen. Mitch McConnell took some of the GOP freshmen on last week? At the time, some conservative activists worried it was a “ploy” to co-opt the Tea Party members of the Senate. And now, interestingly, some of the same freshmen who went on the trip — Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio — have decided not to join the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus.

In an interview with a Florida political website, Tea Party favorite Rubio said he won’t be involved in the caucus, because he thinks it will “co-opt” the whole concept of the movement:

“My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of Tea Party. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that’s happening in Washington D.C.,” he said in an interview with the Shark Tank, a Florida political website. “The Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians. It’s gonna lose its effectiveness and I’m concerned about that.”

What Rubio says is correct on its face. The Tea Party is a ground-up movement, and it would be completely inconsistent with its platform if Washington politicians began “running” it. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of Tea Party Caucus at all. The idea of the caucus is to take direction from the grassroots of the conservative movement and carry it out in Congress — not the other way around.

So Rubio is spinning a bit. But it’s not hard to see why. Politically, it wouldn’t be the greatest move for him to tie himself to a caucus, at least not if he wants to compromise and get things done in the Senate.

That might be why the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus hasn’t been successful in drawing members. The Hill reported that it currently has only three senators committed to attending its first meeting: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint.

The House of Representatives, in comparison, has a 30-member strong Tea Party Caucus, which was created by Rep. Michele Bachmann last year. But the Senate is also a fraction of the size of the House, meaning that senators need to compromise much more with other members in order to get legislation through.

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“A Rough Version of Mr. Bush’s Dream May Yet Come True”

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico). Read More

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico).

The Post editorial concludes this way:

It’s still too early to draw conclusions about Iraq, though many opponents of the war did so long ago. Mr. Maliki’s government could easily go wrong; the coming year, which could end with the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops, will likely be just as challenging as this one. But the country’s political class has repeatedly chosen democracy over dictatorship and accommodation over violence. If that keeps up, a rough version of Mr. Bush’s dream may yet come true.

Four years ago this month may have been the low-water mark in Iraq, with the nation gripped by a low-grade but escalating civil war. The American public strongly opposed the war. Almost every Democratic lawmaker in Congress, with the honorable exception of Senator Joseph Lieberman, was in fierce opposition to both the war and what later became known as the “surge.” Republican lawmakers were losing their nerve as well. Three months earlier, in September 2006, Senator Mitch McConnell had asked for, and received, a private meeting with President Bush. Senator McConnell’s message was a simple one: the Iraq war’s unpopularity was going to cost the GOP control of Congress. “Mr. President,” McConnell said, “bring some troops home from Iraq.”

President Bush, to his everlasting credit, not only refused to bend; he increased the American commitment to Iraq and changed our counterinsurgency strategy. And while the situation in Iraq remains fragile and can be undone — and while problems still remain and need to be urgently addressed (including the terrible persecution of Christians occurring in Iraq right now) — this is a moment for our nation, and most especially our military, to take sober satisfaction in what has been achieved. It has not been an easy journey. But it has been a noble and estimable one.

There is no need here to rehearse the names of the few who did not buckle at the moment when the war seemed lost. They know who they are. In the words of Milton, they were “faithful found among the faithless.” Their faithfulness, and in many cases their courage, is being vindicated.

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Group Outlines the Conservative Case Against New Start

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

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Assange Now Blackmailing the U.S. Government

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

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Christie-mania

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie. Read More

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie.

That explains the search for someone, but why him?

He has set the tone, in part, by being “a strong governor who has opinions and is willing to express them,” he said. When I asked him about New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg’s criticism of his decision to cancel the tunnel, Christie shot back, “All he knows how to do is blow hot air … so I don’t really care what Frank Lautenberg has to say about much of anything.” Anything? “I’m always willing to read something in the paper that he said, and if he makes sense, I’m happy to work with him on it. I haven’t found one yet.” Christie believes his aggressive approach sends a signal to everyone else in the state. “The tone I’m trying to set for New Jersey is: action. Less talk, more action. And I think that’s what I’m doing as governor, and I think we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done already because of that, because I’m pushing and pushing and pushing.” …

Christie’s combativeness has made him a popular figure with the tea party in a way that someone like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels—who’s fought some of the same fiscal battles in his state but with the mien of an accountant—can only dream of. More than anything, Christie fills the longing, currently felt in all corners of the GOP (and beyond), for a stern taskmaster. “People just want to be treated like adults,” Christie says. “They just want to be told the truth. They know we’re in tough times, and they’re willing to sacrifice. But they want shared sacrifice.”

Less well known is his ability to co-opt and work with key Democrats in the deep Blue State. (He’s “cultivated strong relationships with the three most prominent Democratic power brokers currently not in jail.”)

The good news for Christie fans is that there are a few scraps suggesting that he hasn’t entirely closed the door on a 2012 run.  (“Christie’s actions aren’t those of someone who has ruled out a presidential bid.”) His staff’s YouTube videos, the trip to Iowa, and some whispers from his political confidantes are encouraging those in the GOP who are searching for Mr. Right.

But the premise underlying the piece is a bit off. The reason Christie has become a “star” is not because he’s captured the imagination of the “sane” wing of the party but because he transcends the divide (which is part real and part media-driven hype) between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans. He combines serious governance with political theater. He’s got undeniable stage presence, but he’s also a serious budget wonk. He has no patience with political insiders, yet he’s learned to handle his opponents. And he’s become a master at disarming the liberal media without personal acrimony or a sense of victimhood.

But your reading glasses would have to be exceptionally rosy to see real evidence of a 2012 stealth campaign. The most his supporters can hope for is that the field of current contenders will prove underwhelming and that a serious movement to draft Christie will develop. But if the governor resists the entreaties of his fans, Republicans should remember that he became an overnight success thanks to a bunch of irresistible YouTube moments. Who’s to say that someone else couldn’t do the same?

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Tea Party Wins on Earmarks

Elections are wondrous things. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously expressed some skepticism about doing away with earmarks, has heard the voters. On the Senate floor today he declared:

I have seen a lot of elections in my life, but I have never seen an election like the one we had earlier this month. The 2010 midterm election was a “change” election the likes of which I have never seen, and the change that people want, above all, is right here in Washington.

Most Americans are deeply unhappy with their government, more so than at any other time in decades. And after the way lawmakers have done business up here over the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not enough to point out the faults of the party in power. Americans want change, not mere criticism. And that means that all of us in Washington need to get serious about changing the way we do business, even on things we have defended in the past, perhaps for good reason. …

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

Chalk one up for the Tea Party. As I said earlier today, it simply isn’t tenable for Republicans to oppose measures like this. Moreover, if this is any indication, the media-driven narrative of the Tea Party vs. the establishment will quickly fade as both halves of the party make common cause in trying to re-establish the GOP as the party of fiscal discipline.

Elections are wondrous things. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously expressed some skepticism about doing away with earmarks, has heard the voters. On the Senate floor today he declared:

I have seen a lot of elections in my life, but I have never seen an election like the one we had earlier this month. The 2010 midterm election was a “change” election the likes of which I have never seen, and the change that people want, above all, is right here in Washington.

Most Americans are deeply unhappy with their government, more so than at any other time in decades. And after the way lawmakers have done business up here over the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not enough to point out the faults of the party in power. Americans want change, not mere criticism. And that means that all of us in Washington need to get serious about changing the way we do business, even on things we have defended in the past, perhaps for good reason. …

I have thought about these things long and hard over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with my members. I’ve listened to them. Above all, I have listened to my constituents.  And what I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.

Make no mistake. I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight. And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government.

That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican Leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.

Chalk one up for the Tea Party. As I said earlier today, it simply isn’t tenable for Republicans to oppose measures like this. Moreover, if this is any indication, the media-driven narrative of the Tea Party vs. the establishment will quickly fade as both halves of the party make common cause in trying to re-establish the GOP as the party of fiscal discipline.

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Disagreeing About Who’s Disagreeable

“During election season, I think, the rhetoric flies. And by the way, I’ve been guilty of that. It’s not just them,” President Obama told “60 Minutes,” referring to House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think over the course of two years there have been times where I’ve slipped on that commitment.”

There certainly have been. And the comparison to Boehner and McConnell is hardly apt; they have been far more careful in their rhetoric against Obama and Democrats than Obama and Democrats have been against Republicans.

A skeptic will be tempted to assume that Obama’s words are tactical rather than heartfelt — part of his effort to rehabilitate (for political reasons) his shattered reputation for post-partisan, high-minded civility. Those more forgiving of Obama, or perhaps more naïve, will assume he’s learned his lesson and will change his ways.

All we know is what we know: for two years, the president has used hyper-partisan, deeply divisive rhetoric, language that was antithetical to his central campaign commitment. As for what lies ahead: we shall see. Another election season will roll around in 2012, this time with Obama on the ballot. There will be an enormous temptation for him and his lieutenants to dust off the Chicago Way one more time. That will be as good a time as any to judge just how serious Obama is about his newfound commitment to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Here I suppose it’s worth bearing in mind a modern proverb: “Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.”

“During election season, I think, the rhetoric flies. And by the way, I’ve been guilty of that. It’s not just them,” President Obama told “60 Minutes,” referring to House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think over the course of two years there have been times where I’ve slipped on that commitment.”

There certainly have been. And the comparison to Boehner and McConnell is hardly apt; they have been far more careful in their rhetoric against Obama and Democrats than Obama and Democrats have been against Republicans.

A skeptic will be tempted to assume that Obama’s words are tactical rather than heartfelt — part of his effort to rehabilitate (for political reasons) his shattered reputation for post-partisan, high-minded civility. Those more forgiving of Obama, or perhaps more naïve, will assume he’s learned his lesson and will change his ways.

All we know is what we know: for two years, the president has used hyper-partisan, deeply divisive rhetoric, language that was antithetical to his central campaign commitment. As for what lies ahead: we shall see. Another election season will roll around in 2012, this time with Obama on the ballot. There will be an enormous temptation for him and his lieutenants to dust off the Chicago Way one more time. That will be as good a time as any to judge just how serious Obama is about his newfound commitment to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Here I suppose it’s worth bearing in mind a modern proverb: “Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.”

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Manchin to Fight Obama — or Switch?

A report suggests that Senate Republicans are trying to lure Joe Manchin to switch parties:

Aside from his pick of committee assignments (likely the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Manchin might get support for one of his pet projects — a plant to convert coal to diesel fuel that has stalled under Democratic leadership in Washington. …

Republicans believe Manchin is particularly susceptible to the overture because he is up for reelection in 2012 and will have to be on the ticket with President Obama, who is direly unpopular in West Virginia. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Independent Joe Lieberman are the other two prime targets of Republican advances.

For now, Manchin says he’s not switching. But he certainly didn’t close any doors:

“He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on,” said one Manchin advisor. “Now, if that doesn’t work and Democrats aren’t receptive, I don’t know what possibilities that leaves open.”

Not exactly a pledge of perpetual loyalty to his party, is it?

Manchin’s problem is not as acute as Ben Nelson’s is. Nelson infuriated his home state by caving on ObamaCare, thereby setting himself up as the  “60th vote” (as were all Democrats in the cloture vote) target in 2012. It is questionable whether a party change would save Nelson; even if he switched — à la Arlen Specter — Nelson could well face a primary challenge. And from Manchin’s perspective, he was able to swim against the tide by differentiating himself from Obama and his liberal helpmates inside the Beltway. Provided he now carries through and joins with Republicans on key votes on the budget, health care, etc., shouldn’t his chances improve in 2012?

All this raises the question as to whether a bare majority in the Senate is all that important to the GOP. The issue, aside from chairmanships of committees, is not which party “controls” the Senate. That will be a case-by-case affair, determined by the relative craftiness of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in cobbling together temporary alliances of 60 senators. In that regard, the Republicans’ policy objectives might be better served — and the image of bipartisanship enhanced — by inducing Manchin, Nelson, and Lieberman to vote with them as Democrats.

And let’s not forget the gift the Republicans have received: Harry Reid — pursed lips, perpetual gaffes, nasty demeanor, and all — retaining the Senate majority leader spot. That seems almost too good an opportunity to give up.

So I don’t expect the GOP to try all that hard to convince the three most likely candidates to switch parties. If Obama’s fortunes continue to slide, some of them may be chasing the GOP before too long.

A report suggests that Senate Republicans are trying to lure Joe Manchin to switch parties:

Aside from his pick of committee assignments (likely the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Manchin might get support for one of his pet projects — a plant to convert coal to diesel fuel that has stalled under Democratic leadership in Washington. …

Republicans believe Manchin is particularly susceptible to the overture because he is up for reelection in 2012 and will have to be on the ticket with President Obama, who is direly unpopular in West Virginia. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Independent Joe Lieberman are the other two prime targets of Republican advances.

For now, Manchin says he’s not switching. But he certainly didn’t close any doors:

“He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on,” said one Manchin advisor. “Now, if that doesn’t work and Democrats aren’t receptive, I don’t know what possibilities that leaves open.”

Not exactly a pledge of perpetual loyalty to his party, is it?

Manchin’s problem is not as acute as Ben Nelson’s is. Nelson infuriated his home state by caving on ObamaCare, thereby setting himself up as the  “60th vote” (as were all Democrats in the cloture vote) target in 2012. It is questionable whether a party change would save Nelson; even if he switched — à la Arlen Specter — Nelson could well face a primary challenge. And from Manchin’s perspective, he was able to swim against the tide by differentiating himself from Obama and his liberal helpmates inside the Beltway. Provided he now carries through and joins with Republicans on key votes on the budget, health care, etc., shouldn’t his chances improve in 2012?

All this raises the question as to whether a bare majority in the Senate is all that important to the GOP. The issue, aside from chairmanships of committees, is not which party “controls” the Senate. That will be a case-by-case affair, determined by the relative craftiness of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in cobbling together temporary alliances of 60 senators. In that regard, the Republicans’ policy objectives might be better served — and the image of bipartisanship enhanced — by inducing Manchin, Nelson, and Lieberman to vote with them as Democrats.

And let’s not forget the gift the Republicans have received: Harry Reid — pursed lips, perpetual gaffes, nasty demeanor, and all — retaining the Senate majority leader spot. That seems almost too good an opportunity to give up.

So I don’t expect the GOP to try all that hard to convince the three most likely candidates to switch parties. If Obama’s fortunes continue to slide, some of them may be chasing the GOP before too long.

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RE: Senate Shifts

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

As I noted yesterday, the new Senate will have more Republicans and, just as important, many more nervous Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking along the same lines:

“I think the most interesting thing to watch in the next Congress is how many Democrats start voting with us,” McConnell said.

“Every one of the 23 Democrats up [for re-election] in the next cycle has a clear understanding of what happened Tuesday,” he said. “I think we have major opportunities for bipartisan coalitions to support what we want to do.”

There are roughly three groupings of these Democrats. First are those who already cross the aisle now and then. “Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has voted with Republicans about 32 percent of the time during this Congress, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has broken with her party on about 1 in 5 votes.” Yes, this is deceptive because on the really big issues (e.g., ObamaCare), these two voted with the White House. Still, their proclivity is not knee-jerk agreement with their leaders.

Next are those up for re-election in 2012. “Sen. John Tester, who’s up for re-election in 2012, represents red state Montana. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has to run again in two years for a full term, has already promised to take aim at Democratic policies — literally.” You can add in Kent Conrad. And Jim Webb.

And finally, you have the Blue State senators whose states aren’t all that Blue anymore. “Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin will say goodbye to Badger State delegation colleague Russ Feingold; Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey and Florida’s Bill Nelson will be joined on the Hill in January by conservative Republicans instead of by fellow Dems; and Sen. Sherrod Brown witnessed the Democrat in Ohio’s Senate contest beaten by almost 20 points.” In short, they risk being shown up by their states’ more-conservative senators.

For years, the conservative base has grumbled about the least-conservative members of the Senate caucus (the two Maine gals and Snarlin’ Arlen before he switched parties). Now it’s the Dems’ turn to wrestle with the least-liberal members on their side. Harry Reid’s headaches didn’t end on Election Day, and his own narrow escape from a highly vulnerable opponent will serve as a warning to members who don’t have the influence and seniority of a minority leader.

McConnell, with 47 on his side and more to poach from the Democratic side, will be a potent force. Prepare to see him run rings around Reid. Chuck Schumer can take some small consolation that he isn’t going to be the victim of McConnell’s parliamentary skills. And a final point: with a working majority of Red State Democrats and Republicans, prepare to see the liberal intelligentsia defend the wondrous filibuster. Just you wait.

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