Harry Reid is everywhere these days. And, most of the time, he is talking about Charles and David Koch.
Now, on one level, we know why he's doing it: To raise the profile of the billionaire conservative brothers among the Democratic activist base and the party's major donors. But what does it mean for Reid's own political future? Is his willingness to go at the Kochs every day -- he did so again on Tuesday -- a sign that he is unbound by political worries because he is likely to step aside when his term ends in 2016? Or is it simply Reid being Reid and an indicator of not a whole hell of a lot?
"Some here actually see it as a sign that the man who ordinarily doesn't care what people think REALLY doesn't care now because he has decided not to run," wrote Jon Ralston, Nevada's preeminent political journalist in an e-mail to the Fix. "I don't buy that -- I think he's running unless he or his wife has health issues. But I do think he is getting older, has a shorter fuse and also doesn't mind (never has) becoming a lightning rod."
Ralston's right about that. A look back at Reid's "greatest hits" includes his allegation -- proved false -- that Mitt Romney hadn't paid taxes in the last decade, his labeling of then-President George W. Bush a "loser" and his pronouncement in the spring of 2007 that "the war in Iraq is lost." In a piece about a recent controversy regarding campaign funds spent by Reid on a jewelry business tied to his granddaughter, Ralston wrote:
Never before has a politician with so much disdain for the media, and so little understanding of it, ascended to such power. So when Reid’s normally top-notch team bungled the response to the FEC inquiry, they not only let what should have been a one-day story become a multi-day Reid-bashing extravaganza — they also revealed just how much trouble the majority leader can get himself into when his safety net fails him.
The Senate majority leader has one of the savviest teams in the business, both in his office and on the campaign side. He needs it. These folks usually protect Reid — who has no self-editing mechanism — or at least turn deep self-inflicted wounds into paper cuts.
Ryan Erwin, a Republican consultant based in Nevada, agrees. "Team Reid does a better job of masking a rogue statement or bizarre comment by doubling down and then deflecting than any team I’ve ever seen," he said. "More often than not they get away with it, which makes it difficult to differentiate between full-scale damage control, full-scale attack, or just an unplanned tirade."
One Reid ally had a friendlier take on the senator's tactics and motives. "He's fighting back against everyone who is telling him to be quiet, fighting back against everyone that says Democrats can't win the Senate and fighting back against the GOP," said the source. "He gets in these moods where he feels no one is fighting hard enough so he has to step up and be the one to call folks out -- whether it be the Koch brothers, members of the tea party, or Paul Ryan's budget."
Fair enough. But, Reid represents a swing state where he was widely expected to lose his bid for a fifth term in 2010 before Republicans nominated the deeply-flawed Sharron Angle. And, if he runs again -- and he has given every indication he plans to even though he will turn 77 shortly after Election Day 2016 -- there is already considerable chatter that popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval will look hard at challenging him.
There's been little polling done on Reid's standing among Nevada voters -- although even if there were hard data on it, it's tough to trust them given how much he overperformed the available data in 2010 -- but Erwin insisted that some of Reid's recent behavior is born from a nervousness about his own political future.
"He has a popular Republican governor running unopposed in his home state and a strong list of potential opponents in 2016," said Erwin. "That could make anyone more combative than usual."
Not so, according to a close ally of the Senate majority leader. "I think the Nevada situation feels better," e-mailed the source. " There isn't the same level of economic implosion as two or four years ago, and that's a big plus. He's staying totally connected to the state scene (with remarkably good relationships out there with just about everyone). Good steps for '16...."
So, what is driving Harry Reid these days? The same thing that always drives him -- politics played roughly and unapologetically. And, it's worth noting, usually quite successfully.