NOTE: This includes material published here earlier in blog posts and comments. It is posted here as the electronic version of today’s AJC column.
The last thing Saxby Chambliss needs right now is praise from some liberal. Not with his fellow conservatives already deriding him as “Taxby.” Not with a 2014 primary challenge looking more and more threatening.
So with that in mind, I’m going to resist the temptation to laud Georgia’s senior senator for saying that maybe, just maybe, the nation’s best interests will be served by a budget deal that both raises tax revenue and curtails projected spending.
Nor will I publicly applaud Chambliss for saying that when the time comes to cut a deal, he won’t feel bound by a pledge that he signed some 20 years ago to never raise taxes. Twenty years ago, a lot of things were different. Chipper Jones had yet to play a game in an Atlanta Braves uniform, “Wayne’s World” was the hot new Hollywood comedy, Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and, most importantly, the federal debt was less than a quarter of what it is today.
Most of all, I won’t dwell on the fact that with a newly re-elected Democratic president, an expanded Democratic majority in the Senate and a shrunken GOP majority in the House, Republicans aren’t exactly in position to play “my way or the highway” on the budget. It might be emotionally satisfying to take that stance, but as a matter of political strategy and patriotism, it would be counterproductive.
I could make that point, but I won’t.
Instead, I’d like to point out some political realities to those on the right who seem so eager to try to “take out” Chambliss and use his scalp to frighten other conservatives who might wander a bit from the straight and narrow. Recent history says such lessons have a way of backfiring.
To some degree, the anger that is being directed at Chambliss is a sign of conservative confidence here in Georgia. While Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama by four percentage points nationally, he carried Georgia by eight, which is a healthy margin. While demographic changes pose a long-term threat to GOP dominance, Romney’s performance suggests that in the short- to medium-term, Georgia will remain a red state. That all but guarantees that Chambliss would win in the 2014 general election.
Those who want to challenge Chambliss from the right take that argument a step farther. They believe that the GOP’s natural advantage in Georgia would allow them to hold Chambliss’ seat even if Chambliss himself is booted from the ballot. But that is far from certain. In fact, if Chambliss were to lose in the Georgia primary to somebody attacking him from the right, all bets would be off. The 2014 Senate seat then becomes winnable for the Democrats, particularly if they put up the right candidate. (And yes, given the depth of the Democratic bench, that’s a significant “if”.)
But look what happened elsewhere this year:
— In Indiana, longtime Sen. Richard Lugar lost in the Republican primary to a hard-core conservative who defined compromise as Democrats giving in to Republicans. Indiana Republicans told themselves that it didn’t matter, not in a state that Romney went on to win by 10 points, outperforming what he did here in Georgia.
The Democrats won the Indiana Senate seat by five points.
— Romney also carried Missouri by 10 points. Again, that should have been more than enough to ensure that the Republicans would win that state’s Senate seat. Again, they lost and lost badly. Their ultra-conservative candidate — an incumbent congressman — was beaten in that deep-red state by 15 percentage points.
— The most compelling example was perhaps North Dakota. Romney carried the state by 20 percentage points, yet the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate — again, an incumbent conservative congressman — nonetheless managed to lose the race for an open seat.
In those states and others, Republicans made the mistake of believing that they could safely pursue ideological purity without risking rejection at the ballot box, and Democrats were more than happy to teach them otherwise. If given the chance, I suspect Georgia Democrats would be more than happy to teach that lesson once again.
– Jay Bookman