04/09/2005: Era of the Swing Conservative
This article in the Washington Monthly: Swing Conservative illustrates both the political advantages and party disadvantages of those independant minded, "follow thier conscience" politico's...
"...But Lindsey Graham is no moderate. He came to Washington as a Newt Gingrich acolyte, served as a House manager of President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, and is pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-tax cut. According to the standard-bearing American Conservative Union, Graham has voted for the conservative position 91 percent of the time since coming to Congress in 1995, identical to the rating with which Strom Thurmond retired. Neither is Graham a maverick like McCain, someone hated by some of his GOP colleagues for his tendency, as one Republican senator described it to me, to “mount the parapet and wave the flag and take the pin out of the grenade.” Rather, most GOP senators seem genuinely to like and respect Graham. Indeed, everyone seems to love him.
Part of it is just Graham's personality. He carries none of the airs that surround many of his colleagues. His self-deprecating wit and aw-shucks Southern charm are hard to dislike. While not short on ambition, he shares credit with his colleagues and keeps his ego in check by pointing frequently to his own shortcomings.
But there's more than personal charm behind the South Carolinian's sudden rise to bipartisan stardom. Graham has discovered a new niche in the Senate, one opened by last November's elections. During Bush's first term, control of the Senate hung on a one-vote margin, and those senators in the middle held power. With the two parties almost evenly divided, victory on the most contentious issues depended on securing the votes of a small group of moderates—on the Democratic side, senators such as Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and the now retired John Breaux (D-La.); on the Republican side, lawmakers such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.)—or the mavericks such as McCain and collaborators such as Zell Miller (D-Ga.). But in a 55-45 GOP Senate, the moderates, mavericks, and turncoats have lost most of their clout, and the fulcrum of deal-making power has shifted to the right. Democrats know that to have any chance of affecting or killing a piece of legislation, they must not only win over McCain and the moderates, but also pick off a conservative or two. On the Republican side, those who can maintain credibility with the White House and Senate leadership and at the same time work with Democrats to maximize their influence are the ones in the best position to broker compromises. These dealmakers represent a new species on Capitol Hill: call them “swing conservatives.”
Several solid GOP senators have moved into this category. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) has done so on immigration, Social Security, and a few defense issues. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) have allied with Democrats to hold up the White House's energy bill due to environmental concerns. And old lions Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) have stalled in the path of a dramatic and controversial change in parliamentary procedure that would smooth confirmation for the most conservative of Bush's judicial nominations. The Senate's latest arrivals are catching on. Conservative freshmen Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) are pushing their own version of a bill to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada.Of all the swing conservatives, Graham is arguably the one willing to cross deepest into bipartisan territory. But while his apostasies make headlines and give the White House occasional headaches, when all is said and done, Graham's independence is at least as valuable to the Republicans as it is to Democrats. Consider his role in the Abu Ghraib hearings. With his tough questioning of Rumsfeld, Graham earned a rare Washington commodity: credibility.
In the end, however, he put that credibility to use in bolstering the position of the secretary of defense. On “Meet the Press,” Graham pointedly refused to say Rumsfeld should step down, a position he has maintained ever since. During those crucial early days, Rumsfeld's ability to maintain unified GOP support in the Senate was essential to his political survival. Had Graham flipped, the White House's continued loyalty to Rumsfeld would have been made far more difficult, if not impossible. Graham's even-handed posture “did a lot to end a period that was corrosive and dangerous for the administration,” says Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).
For all the appeal of Graham's swing conservatism to Democrats, the elemental fact is that, on the big questions, it serves Republicans most."
Karen on 04.09.05 @ 07:24 AM CST