Meh. This is fine political porn for liberals from Politico but what incentive do these three have to leave the GOP right now? The party just won the White House, cleaned up in the last two midterm elections, has decimated Democrats at the state level, and enjoys a highly favorable Senate map in 2018. If the moderates can vote the way they like on key legislation while remaining members of the majority in good standing, there’s no reason to abandon ship. They’ve got the best of both worlds.
If anything, this story shows you how deep Democratic desperation runs. It’s been a looooong time since they’ve won a big election, so long that now they’re thinking about trying to convert Republicans who’ve already won office as a way of gaining some seats.
But a sitting Democratic senator, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting Schumer on such a sensitive issue, said, “I’m just certain Chuck is already thinking about this – reaching out to McCain and Collins and Murkowski and others and asking if they really want to stand with the GOP. Do they really want to call themselves Republicans at a time when a Republican President and the party’s leaders in Congress are doing such damage to the party – and to the country?”…
[AEI’s Norm] Ornstein thought it was telling that, in the final minutes before the historic health-care vote in the early hours of Friday morning, McCain was seen chatting happily on the Senate floor with Schumer and other Democrats he clearly considers friends – not with most of the Republican leaders he was about to outrage…
What could change the equation, he said, would be a campaign by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell or Trump to punish or publicly humiliate the three rebel senators for their health-care votes last week. “I can imagine that if McConnell tries to punish McCain, or if Trump really starts to go after him, there’s always a chance that McCain could say ‘screw you’ and bolt.”
Unless Schumer can convince all three to leave the GOP and caucus with the Democrats, McConnell will still have a majority via Mike Pence as the tiebreaker. That’s okay from the Dems’ perspective: Getting even one Republican to leave the party over Trump would be a PR victory and would narrow McConnell’s already small margin for error on key votes. But they’d need to hit the trifecta of Collins, Murky, and Maverick in order to take control of the chamber. Unless that happens, with Schumer guaranteeing the three defectors continued chairmanship of their committees if they join Dems to form a 51-seat majority, any single defector would lose his/her committee gavel by quitting McConnell’s caucus. That’s a lot of power to give up for a symbolic middle finger to Trump and the GOP. And what happens if, as is quite possible, Republicans net two Senate seats in the midterms? Then the turncoats would be right back in the minority, out of power, despised by the right and distrusted by the left. Bad place to be.
There are other factors working against it. Murkowski comes from a reliably red state; even though she’s survived losing a Senate primary before, it’d be foolish to relinquish her Republican brand entirely, particularly with the party likely to control the chamber until 2020. Collins is thinking of running for governor of the purple state of Maine next year; if she bails on the GOP, angry Republican voters may stay home while Democrats will look for a nominee more to their ideological liking. She’s probably better off as an independent-minded Republican. As for McCain, he has more important things to worry about than party ID. His legacy as a maverick was secured for all time by his vote on repeal on Thursday night, and although everyone’s hoping for the best, there’s no telling if he’ll ever be back to work. He gains nothing by quitting the GOP right now.
The deeper irony as we strategize about Senate RINOs going independent is that there’s a bigger name who may quietly be considering that option down the road:
“Does [Reince Priebus’s firing] mean Trump’s gonna pivot to a much more independent, populist place?” Olson asked. “I think at the end of the day, the problem he faces is that the Republican Party as a coalition has got pieces that are incongruent with each other.”
Michael Steele, the former chairman of the RNC, also predicted that Priebus’s departure would create greater ideological distance between Trump and the GOP. “The White House is looking to create, ultimately, a separation. It wants to be independent of the party, because it sees the party as an anchor to its agenda and not a balloon,” he said.
What would a more independent Trump look like?
Ryan-Priebus ally to me: next phase of Trump presidency will be warfare against GOP Congress
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) July 28, 2017
Harwood tweeted that early Saturday morning. Hours later, Trump was on Twitter bashing Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP for not killing the legislative filibuster to make it easier for Republicans to rubber-stamp his agenda. (Never mind that skinny repeal failed because it lacked 50, not 60, votes.) If we’re ever again going to see a president who doesn’t belong to one of the two major parties, Trump 2020 may be our best chance. As an incumbent, he’d have the name recognition needed to surmount the disability of lacking a major-party endorsement. Formally unshackled from the GOP, he’d be able to more aggressively pursue populist deals with Democrats and moderate Republicans. The dilemma for the RNC and Republican voters would be whether to support him in 2020 despite his disloyalty in quitting the party or to nominate their own candidate knowing that a divided right almost certainly means Democratic victory. They’d probably cave and back Trump.
As for flipping the Senate, McCain is probably Schumer’s best bet among the three “no” votes on skinny repeal to quit the party. He has the least to lose — even if his cancer treatment is successful and he returns to the chamber, he’s 80 years old and highly unlikely to run again in 2022. He might enjoy sticking it to Trump and repudiating right-wing populists by formally saying “to hell with them” and retiring as an independent instead of a Republican. But it’s hard to believe he’d give up his Armed Services Committee gavel to do it. Unless he switches to “independent” in conjunction with stepping back from major legislative duties, he’s probably a Republican to the end.