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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bye-Bye Bunning

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.

Politico is reporting today that U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is, by popular bipartisan demand, withdrawing his re-election candidacy, with a characteristic blast against the back-stabbers in his party who allegedly “undermined” his puny fundraising efforts.
Bunning nearly lost his first re-election in 2004 (to Daniel Mongiardo, subsequently elected Lt. Governor of Kentucky, and now a candidate for Bunning’s open seat) despite a Republican presidential landslide in the state. He hasn’t done a lot to improve his popularity at home or in the Senate since then. A substantial field of Republicans has lined up to succeed him, or, had he insisted on staying in the race, to beat him like a gong.
But what’s interesting is the sense of entitlement that Bunning appeared to possess, at the age of 77, about a third Senate term. To hear Bunning, the only obstacle to his desire to drift into his ninth decade on earth as a Senator was his reluctance to be concerned about attendance at “DC cocktail parties.”
The oldest of Republican Senators has, of course, has long had his problems with rumors of something less than laser-like mental agility, dating back to his 2004 attacks on Mongiardo as “limp-wristed” and looking “like a son of Saddam Hussein,” and then this interesting disclosure on the campaign trail:

Let me explain something: I don’t watch the national news, and I don’t read the paper. I haven’t done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information.

Bunning is the most senior member of what might be called (with props to Rick Perlstein) the Orthogonian Club, the band of pseudo-populist Republican politicians spawned by Richard Nixon who treat every setback as the product of a conspiracy of elitists. Sarah Palin is the most prominent junior member, and it’s fitting that Bunning’s trip to the showers followed so closely her unforced resignation as Governor of Alaska, accompanied by a similar claim of victimization.
Though I doubt we’ll hear much more about Bunning, once the baseball clichés about his retirement have subsided, Palin will mine the same mother lode of right-wing cultural resentment for quite some time. It will be interesting to see if the famous high school point guard Sarah Barracuda develops the same sense of blind invulnerability as the Hall of Fame hurler—and if she also learns when finally to take herself out of the game.

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