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Non-Nuclear Fallout

Winners, losers, and more: The aftermath of a sell-out.

12:00 AM, May 26, 2005 • By HUGH HEWITT
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MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND begins the high season at Main Beach in California's Laguna Beach. Two-player beach volleyball is never gone completely from the beach, but during the summer it is always in play during daylight.

Even a Midwesterner like me understands the game. Try and score on the serve, but if your opponent digs out that shot, be ready for a set-up followed by the spike.

Thanks to the McCain Caucus, working harder to rehabilitate the Arizona senator's 2008 GOP primary chances than the constitutional provisions governing judicial selection, the Democrats were able to dig out from the majority leader's serve. Not even a day had passed from the deeply unethical deal which sacrificed at least two fine nominees with long records of public service when minority leader Harry Reid followed with the set-up. Here's what he said about the deal:

"[The deal] took the nuclear option off the table. The nuclear option is gone for our lifetime. We don't have to talk about it anymore. I'm disappointed that there's still these threats of the nuclear option."

Reid and his colleagues cannot be blamed for trying to load up the poorly drafted memorandum with their spin. If they can sell a waiting-to-be sold media on the idea that the GOP gave up the Byrd/Constitutional/Nuclear Option, then the coming summer clashes over one or more Supreme Court vacancies will be tilted from the start towards Democratic talking points.

A deeply compromised compromiser, Lindsey Graham, spent most of Tuesday proclaiming his understanding of the "deal," with all the persuasiveness of every grifter victim in history. If Graham's political future traded like a stock, it would have been de-listed yesterday.

Ohio's Michael DeWine may have been surprised to see that his venture into high politics with McCain may have cost his son Patrick a victory in the GOP primary to replace new Trade representative Rob Portman in the Buckeye State's 2nd District.

But it was McCain himself who has blundered in the most obvious way. As a recent New Yorker profile details at great length (with plenty of gushing quotes from Lindsey Graham), Senator McCain is running for president, and until the judicial nominee fiasco, he had made great progress in reestablishing his GOP credentials as a team player, including a strong defense of the president throughout the 2004 campaign.

All that rehab is now irrelevant. Other than the war, there is no issue of greater consequence to GOP activists than the courts, and this includes all GOP activists, not just faith-based conservatives. The sub-parties of national defense and free enterprise inside the GOP know all too well that the courts control many issues, from interpretations of the president's war powers, to the reach of federal regulation over the interstate-commerce clause and tort excesses, to judicial decrees on same-sex marriage and the use of international law to declare state death penalty statutes null and void.

The disfigured filibuster is a constitutional horror, and only the left's babblers pretend otherwise. Writing in a super-majority to the advice and consent clause of Article Two, Section 2 is simple willfulness by a deeply distressed political party, a naked power grab which should have been struck down immediately upon its introduction in 2003, and one which gains false credibility with every day it's left alive.

But John McCain, on April 14 in a Hardball broadcast declared that he'd side with the Democrats against the effort to restore the Senate to its tradition of up or down votes on nominees who made it to the floor. The reaction throughout the Republican primary electorate--instantly communicated through blogs and talk radio--was incredible anger at McCain.

Not long afterwards, his name began to show up as a possible architect of a "compromise." It isn't hard to see that McCain's April blunder led to McCain's May fumble. The first rule of holes always applies, and McCain ignored it, dragging Graham, DeWine the Elder (and possibly DeWine the Younger) and others into the political pit with him. Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, is being urged to take on Senator Lincoln Chaffee in the 2006 primary so that GOP voters don't have to vote for a Democrat in November 2006. (Chaffee voted against the war, against the president's reelection, and now for the filibuster. Chaffee's presence was necessary with a Senate closely divided, but with a healthy majority, he should be booted before seniority puts him in a position to do real damage. Even big tent Republicans like me believe every tent needs an inside and an outside, and Chaffee's way outside.)

The National Republican Senatorial Committee finds itself receiving returned fundraising appeals with "not a dime more" scrawled on their letters. The brainchild of blogger Ed Morrissey, "not a dime more" conveys the refusal to send money to an organization pledged to the reelection efforts of Chaffee and Maine's Olympia Snowe. Of course cutting off the NRSC hurts all incumbents, but principled senators like Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum and Missouri's Jim Talent can go directly to donors via the web. It's the weak horses that like to fundraise as a field.

ON THE PRESIDENTIAL FRONT, it wasn't only McCain who lost big with the deal. So did Senator Bill Frist, at least for the moment, as legitimate questions are being raised about his ability to run the country when he cannot even corral his own caucus. Nebraska's Chuck Hagel contributed to the collapse of the caucus with his reprise of Hamlet on every Sunday show that would have him. Winners include Virginia's George Allen and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

One big winner who has repeatedly, and convincingly, argued for a return to the constitutional process, and who did so from the impressive high ground of having beaten Tom Daschle on the issue, was John Thune. Though Thune's age works against him, he ought to establish the sort of PAC that usually precedes a presidential run, as the fans of candor, honor, purpose, and effectiveness would love to see a spokesman emerge from the new generation of senators elected in 2002 and 2004.

Meanwhile, Harry Reid sees the ball very high in the air, and is planning to bring all he and the left can bring when the president nominates Judge Luttig, McConnell, or Roberts to the Supreme Court. Seven Republicans gave away their party's advantage. Let's hope they don't try to help out again.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.