My able colleague and Democratic friend Carter Eskew made a valid point this morning in his post, “Why moderates will matter in 2016.” Inside the Beltway, having the majority in the Senate means a lot. The majority party has a bigger footprint, committee chairmanships, better offices, etc. — but a simple majority still doesn’t have enough institutional horsepower to get things done without some help from the minority.
Frankly, it’s a problem for later, but I do worry about how effective the Republicans will be if they win the Senate with a slim majority in 2014. There is not much worse in politics than when you have responsibility but no authority. If Republicans end up in control of both the House and the Senate after the midterm elections, it is not unreasonable for voters to think they will have a lot of authority. But the reality is, no matter who ends up in the majority in the Senate, the minority will have a blocking position.
Sidenote: I do believe Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be the Senate majority leader. He is an old-school vote counter and coalition builder. If anybody knows how to assemble winning coalitions, it is him. McConnell’s personality and disposition are much better suited to the job of Senate majority leader than Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.).
Just look at the challenges the Republican leadership face in the House. The Republicans hold the majority, but that doesn’t mean Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) can always count on the support of his entire caucus on any given issue. In the Senate, because of some of the “independent spirits” within the GOP ranks, there is no guarantee that even McConnell could hold his entire caucus.
Carter may know something that I don’t, but from where I sit, there are too few true moderates among Democrats in the Senate to help Republicans advance their positions if the Republicans win the majority. To make matters worse, the 2016 map actually favors the Democrats in the Senate. They will only have to defend 10 seats, and most of those are pretty safe. The Democrats on the ballot in 2016 won’t have to do much in the way of positioning themselves to the right in order to appeal to moderate voters over the next two years. One of the only true Democratic moderates left in the Senate is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) — and if the Republicans take back the Senate majority, I think he will probably change parties. Who else could be considered a moderate? Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)? He voted with President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)? He also voted with the president 97 percent of the time. So who are the moderates who might join Republicans on important issues?
Carter is right that, if they take back the Senate, the Republicans’ victory celebration will be short-lived. But in politics, you take every win you can get and worry about what to do with the authority you’ve been given when the time comes. I hope that in January 2015, we’re all saying a little prayer and lighting a little candle or whatever in support of Majority Leader McConnell.
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