Gordon Smith thinks ahead

GORDON SMITH THINKS AHEAD…. The New York Times had an interesting profile today of Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who, after years of relative silence on the president’s policy on Iraq, decided earlier this month that he’d seen enough and denounced the entire endeavor. At one point, the quiet backbencher went so far as to say Bush’s Iraq policy was not only “absurd,” but “may even be criminal.”

The remarks, the Times said, “made Washington take notice, transforming him into one of the most talked-about Republicans heading into the new Congress.” Indeed, the article noted that Smith’s remarks became a “tipping point” for some congressional Republicans, and that in the aftermath of his speech, “Smith said he heard from several other Republican senators who he said agreed with his views.” And what of the timing of Smith’s concerns?

He said he had decided not to speak out before the midterm elections, both out of political loyalty and a fear that his words would be drowned out by partisan attacks.

“Then we were back in Washington for the lame-duck session,” he said, “and I woke up one morning and turned on the news and another 10 soldiers had been killed. And I went from steaming to boiled. And then I went to the floor.”

Mr. Smith faces re-election in 2008, and some Democrats in Oregon have suggested that his break with the White House was timed to aid his coming campaign, an accusation he adamantly denies.

I obviously have no way of knowing whether the shift in the political winds spurred Smith to action or not, but I can’t help but notice that there are a handful of Republican senators, all of whom have been at least somewhat supportive of the president’s policy over the last several years, who are now expressing fairly strong criticisms.

Just in the last few weeks, Sens. Smith, John Cornyn (R-Texas), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), and John Sununu (R-N.H.) made the transition from public support of the White House’s approach, to public criticism of existing Bush policy.

And all of them, coincidentally, are Senate Republicans who are up for re-election in 2008. Too cynical?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.