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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Frist Trifecta

I can’t even imagine how dreadful it must be to work in the U.S. Senate right now. Just watching the runup to the “nuclear option” from a safe distance is dispiriting enough. I thought the Schiavo thing was the most bizarre, contrived and self-destructive congressional fiasco I’d ever seen, but this is worse, and Lord only knows how long it will last, since the maestro of this production, Bill Frist, dare not go for a vote until he’s sure he’s got 50. Frist does, of course, have to worry that every hour of fresh debate will tempt the Rick Santorums in his ranks to go over the brink into another offensive Nazi analogy.But the thing about Frist (and his buddies over at the White House) that I’ve been struggling to understand is this: if he gets his “nuclear option,” one bad thing will happen to the Republican coalition right away, because the business community (whose lobbyists, best I can tell, generally think the whole idea of making judicial confirmations an Armageddon issue is as dumb as a sack of hammers) is going to be really honked off at the goodies they’ll lose when Democrats shut down non-essential Senate business.But it’s unlikely that bad thing is going to be balanced by any good thing for the GOP. Sure, the Cultural Right will be grateful for the win after years of being played for suckers, but they’ll also actually increase their demands for right-wing judicial nominations. Without the excuse of needing 60 votes for a confirmation, how can Republicans possibly argue against, say, ensuring that any Supreme Court nominee is someone who’s got a garage full of fetus posters?I ran this line of questioning by a very shrewd friend of mine who knows the Senate and its Leader pretty well, and this was his response:

Look, if you’re Bill Frist, you know you’re out of here in eighteen months, and then you’re on the presidential campaign trail, having punched your ticket with the Right. He doesn’t give a damn about the long-term consequences for the Senate or the Party. If he thinks about them at all, he probably figures, “I’ll fix it once I’m in the White House.”

We all know strange things happen in the minds of people who start seeing the Next President of the United States in the bathroom mirror each morning, or humming “Hail to the Chief” over breakfast. Hunter Thompson once compared presidential wannabes to “bull elks in rut,” crashing through the woods blindly and self-destructively at the first sound of an cow elk call.But ol’ Bill must have a pretty advanced case of the presidential hots to willingly go down in history not only as the guy who made the Supreme Court safe for wingnuts, but as the Majority Leader who sought to turn the U.S. Senate into a less representative version of the U.S. House, while reducing the constitutional powers of the Congress as a whole with respect to the executive branch. That’s a real trifecta of irresponsibility.

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