Alternate headline: “Trump’s getting reelected.”
Well, no, probably not given the way things look right now. But he does have the balance of public opinion on his side on this issue, according to Morning Consult. Which is timely information given how many Senate Republicans seem poised to embrace Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to the defense bill requiring that the bases be renamed within three years.
Pelosi was asked this morning about a related issue, removing Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol, and said, “Right now the mood in the country is so completely different and the desire to rid ourselves of any of these symbols of bigotry and hatred is much stronger.” That is … not exactly true, as you’re about to see. I still think there’s strategic value to McConnell and his caucus in making a bipartisan show with Democrats on renaming the bases, but these numbers will complicate things for them.
The 33/48 overall split there looks eerily similar to the split Morning Consult got when it asked about removing Confederate statues from public places last week. In that case it was 32/44 against, which showed movement from 2017 (when it was 26/52) but proved that a plurality of the public is inclined to let sleeping dogs lie. About a third of the country wants to jettison Confederate tributes of various stripes, but no more than that.
So why might Senate Republicans want to get rid of Confederate names on bases anyway? Simply because it might purchase a little extra political capital for higher priorities, like police reform. A show of sensitivity towards the feelings of black Americans (a majority of whom do want to change the names of the bases) on a niche issue like this might make it easier to convince skeptical voters that Tim Scott’s new police reform bill is offered in good faith, irrespective of its policy deficiencies. And as I said last night, it would establish a bit of distance between Trump and Senate incumbents on culture-war issues. The fact that more Americans side with Trump than against him on this particular culture-war issue doesn’t spoil that logic: It’s only a plurality, and it may be worth more politically to Republican senators at this point to make *any* show of independence from Trump than to pander to plurality sentiment on this issue. No one’s voting this fall based on what the GOP did with respect to renaming military bases, but some anti-Trump centrists may vote based on how slavishly devoted to POTUS they perceive their local Senate Republican to be.
Besides, McConnell and the Senate GOP are stuck with this issue now regardless of what the polling says. Because the Warren amendment has already been attached to the final defense bill and there’s no chance of getting 60 (or even 51) votes to strip it out, they’re going to have to either grit their teeth and pass the bill with the amendment attached or vote the whole thing down and end up blocking funding for the Pentagon, which is dicey politically. Their best move is to pass it and then try to convince Trump to sign it so that they’re not left having to explain why Confederate base names are sufficiently important to the president that he’d veto defense appropriations in order to stick up for them.
As for people (like me) who do want the names of the bases changed, they simply have to do better drawing a limiting principle for skeptics for why some monuments depicting racists should stay whereas others should go. Some of the skepticism about removing Confederate tributes is due to southern cultural pride but I suspect most of it outside the south springs from the understandable fear that lefties who come after Robert E. Lee today will come after George Washington tomorrow. A statue of Thomas Jefferson was toppled just a few days ago in Oregon, in fact. If the left insists on bundling the Founding Fathers together with the Confederate leadership and making racism, including slaveholding, the disqualifying factor in honoring influential Americans of the past then the public will feel it has no choice but to protect that entire bundle. We’re not giving up Washington and Jefferson, period. But if treason against the United States is the disqualifying factor then the Confederates can be unbundled and discarded.
That said, I don’t understand the view that if we give the left an inch by agreeing to get rid of Lee we’re putting them in a position to take a mile by getting rid of Washington later. If popular opinion in this country ever reaches the point where declaring open season on the Founding Fathers isn’t electoral suicide for Democrats then it won’t matter what we do or don’t do about Lee now. Precedents will be out the window. The country will be lost. All idols will be smashed, worthy or not. It’ll be Year Zero.
Just as I was finishing this post, a new poll from Quinnipiac dropped containing the following question and answer. Was Pelosi right after all about the mood having changed? When asked about removing Confederate statues, Quinnipiac found Americans in favor, 52/44. And when asked about renaming bases named after Confederates…
Exit quotation from GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana: “Sen. Warren’s amendment, in my opinion, picks on the South unfairly.” Should she have targeted … northern Confederates instead?