Robert Reich: Senate Dems should have given Sinema the back of their hands

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Uhhhhhhhh, I don’t think he meant this figuratively.

Reich isn’t even five feet tall. If he tried to give Sinema the back of his hand, he wouldn’t reach.

The most charitable spin one can put on his tweet is that it was motivated less by a sincere wish to see her harmed than by a sincere wish to win the Outrage Olympics in the aftermath of last night’s vote. The competition to broadcast one’s righteous indignation on social media is always fierce, never more so than after a major political defeat. Reich may have let his competitive spirit get the best of him.

Or maybe he really does think Sinema deserves to be smacked around for not letting Democrats take over national elections. Remember that he served in the Clinton administration, an outfit not renowned for its respect for women.

Other Dems didn’t go as far as he did to communicate their fury but they did go a good long ways:

Manchin and Sinema haven’t been coy about their feelings on the filibuster. If Senate Dems wasted five months chasing a voting rights bill they had every reason to know was doomed, that’s on Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden, not on the two Senate holdouts. And privately, Democrats admit that. Sources whispered to Andrew Prokop that they can’t understand why the party wasted so much time whipping up their base in support of an initiative that was sure to fail.

With failure imminent, finger-pointing and second-guessing about Democrats’ voting rights strategy has become rampant. “Has there ever been a legislative campaign this dumb, doomed and disastrous from the beginning?” one Democratic campaign professional griped to me, speaking anonymously to more freely criticize his party’s strategy…

All along, some Democrats have been quietly skeptical on both tactical and substantive grounds, as I wrote last year. They argued that the likely impact of the bills for “saving democracy” was exaggerated, and that their chances of success were far lower than leaders were admitting. An adviser to a prominent Democratic donor worried that discussions on the topic were becoming “exercises in unreality,” per an email obtained by Politico.

[I]t may amount to wasting a year — Manchin and Sinema’s support for the filibuster has been clear since January 2021, after all. Former Obama White House aide Dan Pfeiffer argued in a recent Substack that insiders privately knew failure was likely, but publicly pretended otherwise, setting the stage for supporters’ disillusionment with Biden’s presidency overall. “Every Democrat — myself included — did a miserable job of managing expectations and leveling with our most loyal activists, volunteers, and donors,” Pfeiffer wrote.

Even so, Manchin and especially Sinema will bear the brunt of the base’s anger. Manchin has the excuse of representing a blood-red state but Sinema seems to have acted on pure conviction, without regard for the electoral consequences. Mitt Romney, no stranger to disappointing his own party by acting on conviction, told reporters after the vote that Sinema’s stand “was an act of an extraordinary political courage, the likes of which I have not seen in my political career.” Charles Cooke added, “It’s not easy to buck your entire party, plus the press and the entertainment industry, and it’s especially tough to do so when you agree with the policies that you’re indirectly allowing to be blocked.” Even that doesn’t fully capture what she was up against. Her own donors warned her in a letter before the vote that upholding the filibuster would be disqualifying in 2024:

A group of big-dollar donors who have spent millions electing Kyrsten Sinema and other Democratic senators threatened to sever all funding to her due to her opposition to changing Senate rules in order to pass voting rights legislation…

“Some of us gave the maximum allowable contribution to your 2018 campaign,” they said in the letter to Sinema, adding that, “We must draw a line. We cannot in good conscience support you if you refuse to use your office to protect our fundamental rights to vote, and we will be obliged to back alternatives for your seat who will do the right thing for our country. Further, we are in agreement that, should your ultimate decision be to prioritize the veneer of bipartisanship, in the form of an arcane senate rule, over the voting rights that John Lewis put his life on the line to defend, your campaign should return each of our 2018 Senate campaign donations.”

The curious thing about how Sinema has navigated this debate is that she’s seemed at times to go out of her way to antagonize the left, not just refusing to vote how they want but sticking it to them in small ways. They’ve complained for months that she won’t hold townhall events so that her constituents can give her an earful. Last night, progressives noticed that she appeared to shout her support defiantly when the vote on the filibuster was finally called:

After the vote, Manchin reportedly ducked out of the Senate chamber quickly. Not Sinema. She stuck around to accept congratulations from the GOP in full view of the Senate cameras:

I’m not sure what her game is. I can’t believe she intends to switch parties; she’s a pro-choice non-religious former Green Party member who twice voted to convict Trump. As much as Arizona Republican voters appreciate her filibuster stand, they can and would demand better in a Senate nominee. But there’s no political advantage to her in tweaking the left gratuitously either — and last night wasn’t the first time she’s done it. Is this just who she is, willing to smack back at her critics even though it’s to her professional detriment to do so? She’s a centrist riddle wrapped in a moderate mystery inside an independent enigma!