Maybe Not This Time

As part of the general discussion of the Myth of Moderate Mitt, it’s often taken for granted that if Romney does win and has to deal with a Democratic Senate, he and his conservative buddies will steamroll them just as they always have. Here’s Mike Tomasky today:

What Republicans generally mean by “working across the aisle” is terrifying just enough Democrats from red states and districts into supporting their initiatives and destroying them if they fail to, like the old ads from 2002 that impugned the patriotism of Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who left three limbs in Vietnam but opposed Bush’s war in Iraq.

I am quite sure that if, say, Mitt Romney takes office with a Senate that’s 52-48 Democratic (a reasonably good possibility), he and GOP congressional leaders will raise heaven and earth to drag two Democratic senators into a tactical alliance, with bribes, threats, you name it. But it’s not as easy as it used to be to identify “red-state Democrats” who will take the bait. Joe Lieberman (not from a red state, but very much open to “compromise”) will be gone. So will Ben Nelson. Bill Nelson and Claire McCaskill will have just survived tough, highly partisan elections. I doubt either will be in the mood to sell out Florida Democrats, even a little bit.

Yes, Mary Landrieu will still be in the Senate, as will Kay Hagan. But both voted against the Ryan Budget and for Obamacare. Maybe they can be picked off on some “bipartisan” bills, but not on the big stuff. And perhaps some of the new Democratic senators (e.g., Heidi Heitkampf or Joe Donnelly) will be “flexible.” But the reality is that it will probably take a decent-sized Democratic victory in the Senate to produce these kind of vulnerable votes, reducing the temptation to stray.

This doesn’t mean Democrats will achieve (probably ever) the kind of “Leninist” unity Tomasky rightly attributes to Republicans. But a combination of Republican extremism, voter polarization, and geographical realignment has produced a Senate Democratic Caucus very different from the one that Bush often rolled. If we do wind up with a scenario where a few Democratic votes in the Senate are the only thing that stands against something as radical as the Ryan Budget or the repeal of Obamacare, I wouldn’t just assume the wall crumbles immediately.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.