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May 29, 2005
How The Seven Dwarves Have Impacted The Presidential Race

Yesterday on the Northern Alliance Radio show, I made an assertion that the judicial confirmation compromise both sprang from the presidential aspirations of its key GOP proponents and that it had affected the 2008 race already. We didn't have time to hash it out, as the hour came to a conclusion shortly afterwards, but Ralph Hallow has more on the latter hypothesis in today's Washington Times. He astutely notes that the GOP base may draw closer to George Allen of Virginia, who has resolutely stood for the principles enumerated by the GOP during the last election while the Seven Dwarves face irate voters back home:

Last week's Senate compromise that averted a showdown over filibustered judicial nominees was actually the opening salvo of the 2008 presidential campaign, several veteran political observers say. The unexpected consequence of the filibuster compromise is to give a boost to the presidential prospects of Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican.

"Allen was very vocal in support of changing the rules to eliminate the filibuster of judicial nominees and took the right position in condemning the compromise," said Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich.

Conservatives have strongly condemned the compromise as a politically motivated gambit by Arizona Sen. John McCain, key Republican broker in the deal that ensured confirmation of three of President Bush's nominees to federal appeals courts.

I argued yesterday that the wide-open presidential race actually encouraged this nonsense. While the Democrats already have a frontrunner of sorts in Hillary Clinton and a couple of other wannabes -- John Kerry, as an example -- the GOP hasn't established anyone as a frontrunner. Dick Cheney's refusal to run (and his high negatives) left the field open, and the Republicans have not groomed anyone to step up. That left a vacuum where the highly ambitious could hope to establish themselves in the media as party leaders. At least some of the Seven Dwarves took advantage of that strategy by painting themselves as reasonable conservatives, ones who could reach accommodation across the aisle where this administration was either unable or unwilling to do so.

In other words, they sold out Bush and their duty to protect the Constitution for a few photo ops and a boost to their national aspirations. Lindsay Graham, Mike DeWine, and most of all John McCain fall into this category. Unfortunately for them, that strategy appears to have blown up in their faces, as the Bolton filibuster demonstrates the ineptness of the Seven Dwarves in caving into Democrats' demands that legitimized the use of the filibuster on executive nominations strictly because of policy disagreements.

McCain gets the most blame among analysts, but Majority Leader Bill Frist doesn't get completely off the hook either, making his own presidential bid look less and less likely to succeed:

Mr. Frist's base of support remains strong, said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "I don't think Frist is wounded -- betrayed by McCain and a few of his other Republican senators, but not wounded, not among social conservatives," he said.

But Mr. Keene said the compromise did serious damage to Mr. Frist's credibility. "Frist is the loser in that he has demonstrated an inability to hold his own majority together," said Mr. Keene. "But out in the country and among the Republican base, he will be viewed as someone who at least tried."

"Frist is hurt to the extent he had an opportunity to be seen as a hero to the conservative movement and that opportunity was taken away from him by John McCain," said Mr. Weyrich.

The compromise was hailed as a victory by Democrats, and many conservatives questioned Mr. McCain's motives in recruiting other Republican senators to join an ad-hoc coalition -- now derided by some critics as "the Seven Dwarfs" -- in support of the deal.

"McCain could not bear to see Frist as the big winner, so he got his buddy [South Carolina Sen.] Lindsey Graham and [Ohio Sen.] Mike DeWine involved in this," Mr. Weyrich said. "That's what this is all about."

Laura Ingraham referred to both DeWine and Graham as MITs -- McCains In Training. They expected to get the same love from the press that McCain gets for being a so-called "maverick", and they may well receive it in the short run. They will discover, however, that one must win primaries in order to run in a general election, and that people tend to vote for those who don't stiff them when the pressure builds. Both might find that, far from building political capital for a national campaign, they may have mortally wounded themselves for re-election to the seats they hold now.

This has changed the landscape for the 2008 campaign. Now we have even fewer national figures who can successfully engage the base for a presidential run. George Allen may be the one figure who rises above this debacle with a national following strong enough to vault him into the upper echelon of contenders. Keep an eye out, though, for GOP governors to step up after 2006. I think we may have a winner right here in Minnesota, if he decides to toss his hat in the ring.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 29, 2005 9:43 AM

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