How does the GOP recover from Stevens? Update: AOL Hot Seat poll added

Politico looks at the ramifications of the Ted Stevens indictment in terms of their electoral strategy for this fall.  The plans for the Senate Republicans are in disarray, and no one seems quite sure how to proceed.  With Alaska holding its primary soon, the focus will stay on how to extricate the GOP from Stevens in that election, but what about the overall strategy for the Republicans?

“This is very bad for the party,” a retiring Senate Republicantold Politico as news of Ted Stevens’ indictment echoed across Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “The timing on this couldn’t be worse.”

One year ago today, Stevens pleaded with his Republican colleagues to “stay with me” as he rode out a Justice Department investigation and an FBI raid on his Alaska home.

Now, there’s an arrest warrant out for the 84-year-old senator. He’s been stripped of his top committee rankings. His iconic career is crumbling. His hopes for reelection are in serious doubt.

And Senate Republicans have no idea what to do about it.

National Review insists on his resignation, and calls the electoral consequences secondary:

The question is not whether Stevens should resign, but whether he should resign now or after Alaska’s August 26 primary. If he steps aside now, the nomination will go to one of the six relatively unknown Republicans who are registered to run in the primary. The deadline for registration has passed, so it is too late for the party to field a stronger contender. If, however, Stevens won the primary and then stepped aside, the party could replace him with a better candidate.

To us, such political calculations are subordinate to the fact that Stevens has disgraced himself and his office. If he steps aside now, the politics will take care of themselves. The eventual nominee will have distinguished himself by winning an open and competitive primary. A party appointment would look calculated and unprincipled, and the candidate would be weaker for it. Stevens should allow the voters to pick his replacement. He should resign, and the sooner the better.

Of course, the Republicans can’t force Stevens to resign.  They wanted Larry Craig to resign after his arrest for importuning an undercover officer in a public restroom, and at first he did, and then he rescinded his resignation.  Craig remains in the Senate, although he’s not running for re-election as Stevens is.

Legally, the National Review notes, Stevens has a presumption of innocence.  So does William Jefferson (D-LA) in the House, who was indicted on corruption charges but remains in Congress.  Jefferson still has his committee assignments, unlike Stevens, who had his stripped by Senate leadership.

In truth, the GOP should have pushed Stevens out of the race a year ago.  The basic structure of his unethical activities with Veco has been well known for at least that long.  Even without that, Stevens’ embarrassing pork-barrel antics such as the Bridge to Nowhere came to exemplify all of the worst impulses of Congress on perks and power.  Instead of cleaning house when they could, the Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to tell a 40-year man that his time was over and that it was time to find fresh blood.

Stevens should resign, but he won’t without his colleagues making it necessary.  Republican leadership should demand it, as they did with Craig, who they insisted had brought shame and dishonor to the chamber.  What Stevens did brings more than a little shame and dishonor to the Senate — it undermines its authority and American confidence in representative democracy.  We don’t send people to Congress to enrich themselves through bribery.

How will this affect the election overall?  Strangely, I don’t think it will have much affect at all outside of Alaska, where the Democrats may well win both the Senate and the House seats this year.  With William Jefferson remaining in Congress, the Democrats have no real footing to use this against the Republicans.  And that may be the biggest scandal of all — that corruption in both parties serves to protect everyone.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on March 20, 2023