Did Cornyn just signal a hands-off GOP approach to Sinema in 2024?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

If so, it’s not exactly the concession that Jonathan Martin or Aaron Blake suggest:

We’ll return to that point shortly. This comment comes in the midst of a Politico profile of Kyrsten Sinema that could be sung to the tune of “My Way.” The onetime progressive firebrand hasn’t changed her spots so much as made them irrelevant in a political environment where branding is everything and public policy only matters as an electoral football. While fellow Senate Democrat Chris Murphy claims, “She’s not the enigma that the punditry wants to make her out to be,” she’s also not the team player that her once-fellow progressives expected either.

Nor is she afraid to call out her party for failing to do the math before bothering to consult with her on policy:

In a 35-minute interview in her miniature, pink-hued Capitol hideaway office, Sinema dressed down Democratic leadership for setting expectations too high. She also defended the right of her critics to protest her, but not to follow her into a bathroom and “unfairly and illegally” victimize the students she teaches at Arizona State. Sinema also revealed why she’s constantly spotted on the floor chatting with GOP leader McConnell: “He has a dry sense of humor. It’s underrated.” …

However, she will criticize her party for its complicity in setting unachievable, sky-high expectations, just like the Republicans who promised to repeal Obamacare under former President Donald Trump. A $3.5 trillion social spending bill, sweeping elections reform, a $15 minimum wage and changes to the filibuster rules were always a long shot with Sinema and Manchin as the definitive Democratic votes in the Senate.

“You’re either honest or you’re not honest. So just tell the truth and be honest and deliver that which you can deliver,” Sinema said. “There’s this growing trend of people in both political parties who promise things that cannot be delivered, in order to get the short-term political gain. And I believe that it damages the long-term health of our democracy.”

As Sinema suggests, that’s a failing of both parties. Remember when the GOP did the same thing with the ObamaCare repeal, for instance? That had so many moving parts that the entire seven-year project fell apart in their reconciliation bill. It helps to have a plan first, and to get buy-in from all of the parties first before floating it, rather than ad-hoc the process based on whatever way the winds are blowing at the moment.

It’s even more true at the moment, where both chambers are so evenly split that it will take bipartisan collaboration to get anything done. The fulminations of progressives are misdirected. Democratic leadership inflated their expectations against all realities of mathematics and process. That failure lands squarely on Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, not Sinema.

With that said, Cornyn’s suggestion that Sinema might get a pass from a Republican challenge in 2024 is less than it seems:

There are some signs that Sinema’s approach could pay off politically too, provided she survives a primary. A September poll from OH Predictive Insights found she had a 40 percent favorability rating among Republicans, a contrast to fellow Arizonan Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. The same poll found that 73 percent of Republicans viewed Kelly unfavorably.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a prospective successor to McConnell, went as far as to say he “would be surprised if Republicans tried to unseat her” in 2024 if she runs.

Sinema sometimes even serves as a go-between with Republicans for her Democratic colleagues, capitalizing on the years she spent in both the House and Senate cultivating relationships with the GOP. She insists those relationships are not transactional but instead reflect the fact that “I’m a human who has friends.”

First off, Sinema’s too popular among Republicans to draw a serious challenger, at least at the moment. If the Arizona GOP targets anyone, it will be Mark Kelly and his attempt to win his first full term in the Senate next year. Kelly could have played the role that Sinema’s playing now and strengthened his hand, but after having won through a special election, Kelly has kept his head firmly inside the foxhole in these battles.

More to the point, though, Republicans have had an increasingly difficult time winning statewide in Arizona. Donald Trump won in 2016 with a bare plurality, and then lost the state four years later. Martha McSally lost two Senate elections in that same period.  The NRSC has made no bones about its desire to get Governor Doug Ducey to run against Kelly next year, as he’s already term-limited in his current office. Ducey thus far has demurred, but he may be the only Republican at the moment who can compete statewide against Kelly — and he’s an easier target than Sinema will be two years later.

In other words, this isn’t an inducement for Sinema to oppose the BBB. It’s not even a payback for standing firm on the filibuster, which at the moment matters more to the GOP than torpedoing the reconciliation package. Cornyn’s only nodding to reality, at least for now. Perhaps we’re one red wave from making a Republican challenge to Sinema in Arizona realistic, but let’s wait for that red wave first before seeing how far ashore it reaches.