At this point in the current filibuster showdown, most of the focus is on what the Democrats will do, with Republicans blockading three seats on the DC Circuit Court. It seems to me that Democrats will have little choice but to threaten majority-imposed rules change and, if necessary, carry out that threat. But what are Republicans thinking? I have no idea, but there seem to be several possibilities.

1. They don’t believe Democrats will really go through with majority-imposed reform.

2. They’re bluffing. They intend to fold at the last minute, just as they did over executive branch nominations during the last confrontation.

3. They’re not bluffing, and they don’t think the Democrats are bluffing — they want to get rid of the filibuster, and want the Democrats to be the ones who do it.

4. Collectively, they want to back down. However, the tag-team method they’ve been using to lose on cloture votes by relatively narrow margins have broken down; they can’t find five Republicans to take the potential re-nomination hit of voting for cloture.

Or perhaps it’s a mistake to suggest that “the Republicans” are thinking anything as a group. After all, these are 45 individual, autonomous politicians; there may be all sorts of mixed combinations of what’s going on here. For example, it could be that 20 or so Republican Senators are in column #3 and want to get rid of the filibuster, and then another 20 or so are just afraid to vote against those first twenty…and then a few more are really just bluffing. Or are really reading the Democrats as bluffing.

As I said: I have no idea what’s going on here, and therefore what the likely end game might be. Perhaps we’ll learn more as we move towards the third cloture vote. I have to say: I’m not predicting anything, but I’m not as optimistic as I was last time that they’re going to strike a deal.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.