Lieberman Party Switch?

Jason Smith asks, “[W]ouldn’t it be ironic, if the man Democrats threw to the wolves, Joe Lieberman, decided the best payback to his disloyal colleagues was to pull a Jeffords?”

Yes. Yes it would.

It would also be, as it was in Jeffords’ case, quite despicable.

Like his political twin, John McCain, Lieberman is an opportunist who has ironically managed to portray himself in the press as a courageous man of principle.

After losing in the Democratic primary, entry into which is implicitly (and perhaps explicitly) a pledge to support the outcome of that contest, Lieberman decided to go for a second bite of the apple as a so-called Independent. He hired a Republican polling and political strategy firm (one that employs my wife). He bashed Democrats for their stance on the war.

Yet, all the while, he pledged to caucus with the Democrats if re-elected. The voters of Connecticut who pulled the lever (or pressed the pad, or whatever mechanism is currently in use there) for him with the expectation that he would do that. It is, therefore, his duty to do just that.

If, for some reason, he decides over the next six years that he can not in good conscience continue to work with Harry Reid and Company–or they deny him a committee chairmanship he feels is rightly his–he has the right to change his mind. At that point, though, the honorable thing to do is to resign his post and stand for re-election as a Republican or Independent-Leaning-Republican or whatever.

If he does that, I’ll happily welcome Lieberman to the Big Tent. If he pulls a Jeffords, the Republican leadership has little choice but to accept the gift and cut a deal, just as we would with any traitor. But he should be held in the same contempt as we now hold Jeffords.

UPDATE: More from the Hartford Courant:

Now that he’s won re-election as a petitioning candidate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman is pledging to remain a Democrat, if for no other reason than to keep his 18 years’ seniority in the Senate. “I’ll sign up with the caucus to protect my seniority,” Lieberman said Wednesday. “My seniority is important to my ability to deliver for the state of Connecticut.”

Lieberman briefly joked about how the Republicans might coax him into joining the GOP, a switch that could keep the closely divided Senate under Republican control. “There is a little playfulness in me that wants me to make a joke about that, but it’s too serious. The answer is no,” he said. “When I give my word I stick with it, and I am definitely going to organize with the Senate Democrats.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. arky says:

    “After losing in the Democratic primary, entry into which is implicitly (and perhaps explicitly) a pledge to support the outcome of that contest, Lieberman decided to go for a second bite of the apple as a so-called Independent. ”

    I thought it was the job of a senator to represent his constituency, rather than his party.

    Lieberman in the past found the democratic party the best way to represent the will of his people. Realizing that his support was not only with the party base, he rightly gave the greater numbers of voters in his state the chance to make their choice known.

    I’d want my reps to be faithful to me, not their party.

    That’s not to say he’d be wise to jump to the Republican side. Just that I think it’s wrong to look down on his continuing the race.

    Obviously the majority in his state want him to stay in office, no matter what the party wants. And I think that’s the way it should be.

  2. Anderson says:

    Over at LGM, I was speculating as to whether Hagel or Snowe might turn *their* coats to retrieve the Senate for the Dems if Lieberman walked.

    2006 suggested that the days of the moderate Republican are few.

    OTOH, Hagel probably wants to run for president in 2008, and he may well believe he has a better chance in the Republican field than against The Juggernaut Which Is Hillary.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder when the Democratic party in the states that the Democrats control will begin changing the rules to make it virtually impossible for any other candidate (read moderate Democrat) to run in the general election after losing in the primary. I assume that the Democrats will want to prevent any more Lieberman-like campaigns.

    I also wonder if the same Democrats will push to eliminate initiative and referendum based upon the recent outcomes of votes on gay marriage, eminent domain, affirmative action, etc.

  4. James Joyner says:


    I favor “sore loser” rules. Unaffiliated candidates should be able to get on ballots presuming they can demonstrate they have crossed some reasonable threshold of support. But not after having lost a primary election that same cycle.

    I called for Lieberman to pull out of the Democratic primary when it became obvious he was going to lose, thus preserving a cleaner option as an independent.

    I didn’t blame Lieberman for going ahead and running–he’d always left the option open and was legally entitled to take it–but it’s a bad system. Running in the party primaries means you identify yourself with the party to get the benefit of its infrastructure. To get that, you should have to abide by the results of the election.

  5. Rodney Dill says:

    I don’t remember all the specifics of the Jeffords situation, but I believe he dumped his party (whether justified or not). Lieberman was pretty much dumped by his own party in the primaries and then did run as an independent. Though to throw his support to the GOP now after indicating allegiance still to the Democrats, would be questionable. I don’t know that I would hold it to the same standard as the Jeffords defection.

  6. Anderson says:

    Hm. Has anyone ever run for Prez/Veep in 2 different elections on 2 different major-party tickets? (Excluding TR’s Bull Moose nonsense.)

    It’s amusing to think of Lieberman not only switching, but seeking the Repub nomination. He has the ego for it, if nothing else.

  7. Anderson says:

    Lieberman was pretty much dumped by his own party in the primaries

    Not really. He was dumped by Dem *voters*. As Ned Lamont would tell you at length over many beers, the Dem establishment pretty much stayed with Lieberman throughout, treating Lamont as an unfortunate irruption on the scene … which, partly by their own conduct, turned out to be the case.

  8. Michael says:

    I also wonder if the same Democrats will push to eliminate initiative and referendum based upon the recent outcomes of votes on gay marriage, eminent domain, affirmative action, etc.

    SD, in my state (Florida) the push to make ballot initiatives harder if not impossible is being forwarded by Republicans, not Democracts. So be careful with your blanket statements.

  9. Michael says:

    The only way Lieberman will switch party affiliation to the GOP is if he plans on retiring in 6 years. There is no way his long-time dem supporters would vote for him again after he does this, and he’s too liberal to win a GOP primary. So unless he plans on switching to the GOP, losing the GOP primary, and running as an Independent-leaning-Democract-leaning-Republican in 6 years, he’d be out of a job.

  10. Michael says:

    I’d also once again like to point out that when “constituents” dump their “representative”, we call that democracy, and it’s a good thing. In Lieberman’s case, his constituents in the Democratic party felt that he was not representing them as well as Ned Lamont would, so they did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t owe him anything, nobody is entitled to be in Congress, or the White House, or any other elected office.

  11. James Joyner says:

    Michael: I would differ with you there. Lieberman’s constituents–the voters of Connecticut–preferred him over all available options and did from the beginning. The hard core partisans who vote in primary elections, however, had been alienated. That’s why I thought Lieberman should have skipped the primaries and gone Independent to begin with. He’d have been on much more solid moral ground.

  12. just me says:

    I am not really keen on party switches while in office at all.

    I think anytime a congress member switches parties there should have to be a new election-whether the full term is served or not-a party switch should trigger a special election with the candidate running in his/her new party and a challenger from the other party. Changing parties to either affect control of a house of congress (as Jeffords did) or to join the “winning” side bothers me. I know some democrats did this during the years from 1994-2000, but it just seems unethical-a wolf in sheeps clothing type thing.

    That said while I don’t expect or even think Lieberman is going to jump parties (the only thing that makes me think it would happen would be if Lieberman was dissed by the new senate majority, but the reality is the dems need him, they know it, so he will be pretty safe).

    But I do think he is different than Jeffords, because unlike Jeffords he wasn’t running as a democrat, he did not receive funds from the democratic party during his general election run (although he may have received them from democrats, but they knew they were donating to an independant). I think the promises to caucus with the dems may have helped, but I don’t see that quite the same as acting as a representative of one party to get elected, then switching over, when you get there.

  13. Pug says:

    I think Joe should team up with McCain and run on a presidential ticket. They could run on stay the course and sending more troops to Iraq. Then, perhaps, we could see two flaming opportunistic egomaniacs go down at once.