Friday, July 29, 2005

Why are the Republicans behaving sensibly?

First Bush makes a reasonable choice for the Supreme Court. Then today, Frist breaks with the White House and the religious right on stem cells.

After four years of ideological confrontation from the White House and its allies, are the grownups back in charge in Washington? I wouldn't get too excited yet. High-minded centrism and bipartisanship are not exactly breaking out all over.

But anyway ... there are several interpretations of this sudden softening of the hard-right monolith.

1. There is a genuine intra-party split underway on stem cells, the first of many as Bush heads toward lame-duckitude. Maybe. But I doubt Frist would have broken with the White House without Rove's advance knowledge and approval.

2. Karl Rove and his 51 percent polarization strategy are on the outs due to some combination of Plamegate and other factors - the failure of the Social Security proposal, et al. Unlikely. Though it certainly seems that Rove wasn't the main moving force behind the Roberts nomination.

3. Bush's political weakness has taken the bloom off the confrontational approach. More likely. Bush needed a victory and some public goodwill - and it looks like Roberts will deliver on both. By the same token, Frist's move is a logical and smart one for him. After months of awkward pandering, he's actually doing something we can believe he believes in - that is also popular with a majority of the country. He also gives the Republican Party a big tent feel on the issue, which it needs.

4. The grownups are actually back in charge. Unlikely. Have you seen Brent Scowcroft recently? In fact, there are no grownups in the Republican Party anymore. We can only hope that objectively speaking, polarization's political dividends are declining.