There is talk about Republican leaders in the House and even the Senate “measuring the drapes” in anticipation of winning a majority in the November elections. If they are, they might not want to order drapes in their own favorite color just yet.
After all, what does it say about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s grip on his job that two of the people he chose as his closest confidants may not be back in the Senate come January? (Bob Bennett of Utah already lost his primary; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is trailing a challenger pending the counting of absentee ballots.)
Murkowski was one of McConnell’s rising stars. He tapped her for his inner circle in her first term, and she also got a spot on the Appropriations Committee. The darling of Alaska’s former senior senator, Ted Stevens, Murkowski rocketed through the ranks. This year, she was elected secretary of the Senate Republican Conference, one of the top six leadership roles. After Stevens lost re-election in 2008, McConnell took her under his wing. “Lisa is the new powerhouse in Alaska,” he told Roll Call. “She will fill the vacuum left by Ted.”
And her Senate record resembled Stevens’ — while she had a long climb to match the porking prowess of Stevens, her $704 million in earmarks over the past three fiscal years puts her in the same league as the biggest earmarkers. She has a moderate voting record, but she isn’t at the left end of the GOP. Ultimately, she is a loyal Republican who isn’t terribly ideological. This was the profile for McConnell’s “counsels.”
But Joe Miller, the former judge and Army veteran who appears to have beaten her in the primary, pending counting of all absentee ballots, is of a different stripe. Miller is not merely conservative, he’s unyielding, supremely self-confident, and self-reliant. He will come to Washington seeing the whole town and its customs — quite possibly including collegiality and tradition of the Senate — as the enemy.
“It’s the same story,” Carney continues, in Utah, where Mike Lee is the tea party candidate who upset Bennett.
There will be a lot of focus on the (lack of) ideological flexibility, as Carney puts it, of these potential new senators — along with Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sharron Angle of Nevada and Ken Buck of Colorado. But there have been philosophically stubborn senators before, on both sides of the aisle. Ideology is part of the equation, but so is accountability. And the party that claims to be about limited government can’t very well have big-time earmarkers among its inner circle if it wants to be taken seriously.
So, I think the more interesting question to ponder is Carney’s prediction that Alaska’s Miller would “come to Washington seeing the whole town and its customs — quite possibly including collegiality and tradition of the Senate — as the enemy.”
For all the talk about the tea party’s ideology, I think its members’ opposition to The System, the good-ol-boying, the looking after No. 1 first and last and in between, is an equally defining characteristic of the movement. If these candidates are elected, there will be some unexpected consequences — possibly including new leadership within their party’s caucus.