After all the glowing words surrounding the Senate "compromise" in which the Republicans folded their hand despite holding all the high cards, it is worth taking a look at who won what and why.
The biggest winner is Senator John McCain, who once again sold out both principles and party, to the applause of the mainstream media. Not only is he assured of good publicity, he has pulled the rug out from under Majority Leader William Frist, his probable chief rival for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination.
Winning a showdown with the Democrats by using the so-called "nuclear option" to stop the filibustering of judicial nominees would have given Senator Frist the kind of name-recognition that McCain already has and would be a major achievement to solidify the support of the conservative Republican base.
Now, after having been blindsided by the McCain mutiny, Frist looks ineffective as Majority Leader and questionable as a potential President of the United States.
Those who claim that Senator McCain has forfeited the support of the Republican base by selling out his party must not realize that McCain never had the support of that base in the first place, as shown by their votes in the 2000 Republican primaries.
Senator McCain has lost nothing. If Hillary Clinton is the Democrats’ candidate in 2008, what alternative would the Republican base have? Vote for Hillary?
If nothing else, Senator McCain has undermined Senator Frist’s authority as Majority Leader in the Senate and made himself the media’s favorite Republican. Whether or not that can be cashed in for a 2008 Presidential nomination, McCain has raised his own stock and lowered that of Frist. He is in a position to rule or ruin.
Is Senator Frist a weak Majority Leader or does he just not have the troops required to get the job done? Senator Frist is a surgeon but he can’t transplant backbone to Senate Republicans who don’t have any.
A Senate Majority Leader today may or may not be able to rule with an iron hand, the way Lyndon Johnson did when he held that title half a century ago.
I don’t know Senator Frist but I know someone in Tennessee who does know him and thinks highly of him. I am inclined to think highly of him myself, though I have met him in person only once, when we sat at a dinner table in the White House with the President of Kenya and Mrs. Bush, among others.
What struck me was Senator Frist’s mentioning that he was familiar with Kenya from having been there during one of his trips to Africa to perform surgery on African children. Being a humane and decent man is not something to sneeze at but, in politics, the question about decent people is whether they are sufficiently on guard against people who are not so decent.
Senator Frist may have expected that he could rely on his friends in the Senate to stick by him in a showdown. But Harry Truman once said that, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.
Those of us who are not privy to what goes on behind the scenes in Washington cannot know how savvy or how tough Senator Frist is as Majority Leader. He may be getting all the mileage he can out of the kind of people who make up the Republican contingent in the Senate.
Being the leader of Republican Senators who include John McCain, Arlen Specter, and Olympia Snowe, among others with minimal or non-existent party loyalty, cannot be a picnic. Moreover, even if Senator Frist is an effective leader, that is not enough unless he also looks like an effective leader — which he certainly does not at the moment.
As for any Presidential ambitions, the Republicans have often had more people who would make good Presidents than they have had people who would make good presidential candidates — and that is what you have to be in order to reach the White House.
This is a low point. But it has long been axiomatic that "in politics, overnight is a lifetime." It is a long time before the 2008 elections. In political terms, there is still time before the next Supreme Court nominee reaches the Senate, even if that happens this year. How that time is used is what matters.