Nuclear Option, McCain, Frist, and 2008
Last night’s deal in which the Democrats agreed to do their job on some judicial nominees in exchange for the Republicans agreeing to give up their leverage will have an impact on the 2008 presidential race, since Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and John McCain, the leader of the deal brokers, are both all-but-official candidates. As things stand now, both are weakened by the compromise.
Frist, never a particularly strong candidate to begin with, looks weaker. He has allowed his leadership to be undermined by a backbench faction and been unable to deliver on his promise of an up-or-down vote for every nominee. The Republican nominating electorate will not be pleased. McCain has long been viewed with skepticism by the base and last night’s move only strengthens that. While conservative on many key issues, he loves the limelight even more than the average Senator and has found that the best way to get it is to play the role of “maverick,” a term the media applies to Republicans who often vote with the Democrats.
Frist can recover from this; McCain can not. Pat Buchanan, appearing on the Don Imus show this morning, pointed to a way ahead for Frist. Basically, he can simply insist on an up-or-down vote for each nominee, this deal be damned. If the Democrats deem that “extraordinary circumstances” have been reached on a particular nominee, then Frist can call for a cloture vote and force McCain and the others to cast an on the record vote. McCain will then have to either vote with the Republicans and kill this deal, or he has to vote with the Democrats and further alienate the party. Either way, the nuclear option could still be played and, again, McCain and the others would have to cast a vote.
One wonders if Frist has the mettle for such a maneuver. If not, his small chances of being the Republican nominee in 2008 are finished. McCain’s are already over.