Abramoff Scandal: Winners and Losers

Howard Fineman has an interesting discussion of the “Winners and losers in the Abramoff scandal.” Most of his observations have been made elsewhere, but two deserve attention. One for its insight, the other for its odd credulity.

[T]he thing that jumps out at me is the figure $20,194,000. If I read the fed̢۪s plea-agreement papers correctly, that̢۪s the amount of cold cash that the Republican lobbyist siphoned from Indian tribes and stashed in his secret accounts.

You may not believe this, but in this city, that is an unheard of amount of money for a lobbyist to haul in — and the number itself signifies a troubling change in the nature of life in the capital of our country.

The denizens of D.C. deal in trillions of dollars. But they are YOUR dollars: tax receipts and federal spending. Lawyers and lobbyists here do well. Still, they haven̢۪t generally been in the same league as money-power types in, say, New York or Los Angeles. This was a city in which official position meant more than a plush vacation home; in which a Ph.D. or J.D. meant more than a BMW.

That’s a point worth making. While there’s plenty of money to be had in D.C., it’s mostly in the lawyer-lobbyist arena rather than the governing-policy one. Politicians and think tank fellows are highly regarded but relatively underpaid.

The column is undermined, though, by this odd pick as a Winner:

Third-party reform movement: If Sen. John McCain doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination, I could see him leading an independent effort to “clean up†the capital as a third-party candidate. Having been seared by his own touch with this type of controversy (the Keating case in the ’80s, which was as important an experience to him as Vietnam), McCain could team up with a Democrat, say, Sen. Joe Lieberman. If they could assemble a cabinet in waiting — perhaps Wes Clark for defense, Russ Feingold for justice, Colin Powell for anything — they could win the 2008 election going away.

Fineman is one of the best political analysts in the business. Still, this borders on absurdity. Yes, it’s conceivable that McCain and company could put together a party on a clean-up agenda. Let’s call it “The Reform Party.” With their name recognition, they could, say, go on Larry King’s show and call on volunteers from each of the 50 states to put their names on the ballots.

Now, what states would they win? California? Texas? New York? Florida? I don’t see it, do you?

And, yes, they’d have to actually win states–enough to total 270 Electoral Votes, if you recall from the last election–to win the election, going away or otherwise.

A McCain-Lieberman ticket would undoubtedly pull votes away from both parties. Probably more from the Republicans, although it would depend on the nominees. But it’s almost inconceivable that the ticket would take a single Deep South state away from the GOP or a single Rust Belt state from the Democrats. California is something of a maverick state but would a pro-life ticket carry it? Not hardly.

At best, they would carry a handful of swing states and maybe McCain’s Arizona and Lieberman’s Connecticut. That might be enough to deny any ticket 270 votes. That would throw the election to the House of Representatives. How many Reform Party members do you think they’ll have there?

Somehow, I don’t think “clean up the government” is a sufficient governing agenda to splinter the major parties. Both are already scrambling to push “reform” legislation in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. While there may well be lasting consequences from all this, I don’t think an 1860-style party realignment will be among them.

FILED UNDER: Political Theory, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    McCain, No Way. He belongs in jail for his part in the Keating scandal. Although he got off scott free, he was guilty as hell.

    Leiberman: He migh have a chance and is probably the most honest person in Congress.

    Wes Calrk, H has been General that screwed up the entire Kosovo operation and knows as much about politics as I do plumbing.

    Feingold: Another political wanna be President and political hack. Hi reminds me of someoneone on the outside looking in.

    Colon Powell: A chickens**t, has been General that would put Saddam back in power and tell the world how great Saddam was as a dictator.

    The very thought of these guys gaining any power whatsoever would frighten the hell out of me and would be the end of this country as a nation of free people.

  2. dougrc says:

    Everyone of the “dream team” (with maybe the exception of Loserman) has an ego bigger than D.C. It’s amazing that they can all fit on the same coast much less the same cabinet. It would be fun to see it come to fruition just to watch the blow-up that would eventually erupt!

  3. DL says:

    I don’t trust Pontius Pilate Lieberman. He’s a big liberal in disguise, but knows how to wring his hand for the audience and appear moderate. He did vote for partial birth abortion so he clearly would not be part of a pro-life ticket on anybody’s party.