John Cornyn took a lot of criticism for his handling of the NRSC, especially in the Florida race, in the 2010 cycle. Cornyn later admitted that he’d made a mistake in backing Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio in an open primary, and avoided picking winners in primaries through the rest of the midterm primary season. The end result was a pickup of six seats — enough, apparently, for his colleagues to unanimously confirm Cornyn as NRSC chair for another term:
While Cornyn’s performance as NRSC chair has been praised in Republican circles since the election, it wasn’t without speed bumps. By wading into contested primaries early in the cycle, the NRSC was handed defeats when insurgent challengers like Christine O’Donnell (Del.), Ken Buck (Colo.) andSharron Angle (Nev.) defeated NRSC-backed contenders in part by using the NRSC’s endorsement against them. The GOP went on to lose those three seats, costing them a chance at a Senate majority.
Cornyn alluded to those primaries in his statement.
“The key now is to build on that success, while applying lessons learned from the 2010 campaign,” Cornyn said. “I believe Republicans are strongest when we stick together, and I continue to adhere to the words of William F. Buckley, who famously said: ‘I am for the most conservative candidate that can get elected.’ But I recognize that Republican primary voters choose our nominees, and I am committed to listening to the message voters sent this past year.”
With the Republican playing field as large as it is in 2012, Cornyn is likely to face questions about endorsements very early in the cycle as Republicans line up to challenge the likes of Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), James Webb (D-Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), among others.
Interestingly, Rubio himself endorsed Cornyn for the position. If anyone has the right to resent Cornyn’s presence at the top of the NRSC, it’s Marco Rubio, so his endorsement may help settle some hard feelings over some of the “speed bumps” that Jeremy Jacobs references in his National Journal report. As I argued at the time, it’s inappropriate for the national organizations to enter open primaries and attempt to steamroller handpicked candidates. In this cycle, it proved counterproductive, although the other three races mentioned would probably not have turned out any differently in the end.
Cornyn’s performance is open for legitimate criticism, but to be fair, one has to keep the context of the election in mind. The GOP had to defend more seats in this election than the Democrats, and a couple of key retirements made the prospect of losing even more ground a distinct possibility in the early days of 2009, before the failure of Obama’s stimulus plan and the incredibly arrogant ObamaCare actions of Democrats sparked the Tea Party. Few others would have wanted Cornyn’s job at the NRSC under those circumstances, as Cornyn desperately looked for candidates willing to fill the gaps.
Of course, with that in mind, the NRSC chair position looks pretty tasty for someone with national ambitions in the upcoming cycle. Democrats have to defend 13 more seats than Republicans, and they will probably have some key retirements this time, almost certainly Jim Webb, who seems rather disinclined to raise funds for another race. It’s telling that no one in the caucus wanted to challenge Cornyn for the job with brighter skies ahead than behind, and with a good shot at authoring a new majority in the upper chamber.
What do you think? Did Cornyn’s ultimate +6 performance justify a new term as chair, or should another Republican have challenged him for the spot? Take the poll: