Thursday, May 12, 2005

Nuclitutional option

The conventional wisdom is probably correct this time – Bill Frist has backed himself into an extremely uncomfortable corner with the constituclear option. Never mind the Democrats, there are just too many constituencies within the GOP pulling in too many directions – institutionalists within the Senate, the Lincoln Chafee finger-in-the-wind types, the religious right. Mark Schmitt analyzes it:

It seems pretty likely that Frist does not have the votes for the Nuclear Option. If he did, he would have called for the vote this week. (And I'm guessing that he's down one more vote now, because Senator Chafee will claim that by voting with Voinovich to let the Bolton nomination go to the floor without a recommendation, he gets credit for voting for Bolton and therefore should be free to vote his own mind on the Nuke option. That kind of calculus is what's going on when you see a Republican senator "deliberating.")

If Frist calls the vote and loses, at the very least he cannot continue to function as Republican leader of the Senate. He will have forced a number of Senators to vote against their own instincts and institutional values. Some of those Senators might be willing to vote for the option if it moves their judges forward and strengthens their president, but they're not willing to vote for it and lose. They'll be angry. And then there will be the Republicans who vote against it: they will certainly face calls, stirred up by Frist himself, for retribution -- primary challenges, removal from committees, etc. To function as leader, Frist will have to reassure them that he will discourage retribution. But if he does so, he will lose the support of the religious right that he stirred up. He's stuck.

That image of Frist talking via videotape to the divine justice crowd seemed to sum up his discomfiture – expressions of forced sincerity and fake reasonableness were playing across his face in really odd ways. When and if he runs for president, who is going to believe this guy?