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Senators Hagel and Snowe, Victory In The War, And Grassroots Support For The NRSC

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Republican Senators Hagel and Snowe have joined the Democrats in pushing a resolution being interpreted by many in the MSM as a repudiation of President Bush’s surge policy and by some as an endorsement of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

Given that Senator Hagel is up for reelection this year, his very public defection and the manner in which he has made it dooms fundraising from the grassroots for the  I hosted Senator Ensign yesterday to talk about the effort to regain a Senate majority, but as the NRSC discovered when it supported Lincoln Chafee in the last cycle, the base will not support a committee that will help senators opposed to victory. The NRSC paid a huge price for supporting Chafee in ’06.  It will do so again if it supports Republican incumbents not pledged to victory.  Very few issues are make-or-break issues: The war and support of SCOTUS nominees are two of those very few issues that can sour a supporter on the effort to regain a majority.  “Why bother with financial sacrifice and volunteering,” they ask, “If folks like Hagel, and Chafee before him, sell the president down the river in the first month of the new Congress?”

If Senator Hagel declines to seek reelection in Nebraska, it is perhaps possible to rescue the grassroots NRSC effort, but not if he seeks reelection, or if another member of the Class of 2008 also joins the Democrats’ cut-and-run effort, well, expect the“Not. One. Dime” effort to rekindle.  Senators will have to make the ask themselves, and senators in opposition to the surge will find it tough going indeed.

Senator Hagel, to use a formulation I have employed elsewhere, is a great American, a lousy senator and a terrible Republican.  He is, as most activists know, a highly decorated combat veteran (and a former talk show host to boot!)

But he’s opposite the Republican base on the war, and the consequences of his grandstanding will be tremendously damaging to the prospects of a return to majority status –but Senator Hagel doesn’t seem to care.  No doubt he feels driven by conscience, not by political opportunism.

Not caring about the collective view of the senators in your caucus requires a vanity that dismisses the combined wisdom of your colleagues, a dismissiveness that not only betrays ego out of proportion to any one individual’s talents, but which undermines a whole array of policy objectives.  This sort of dismissiveness is poison to a party –just as John McCain’s brokering of the Gang of 14 was such a blow to the GOP of the last Congress.  The suspicion is out there that such mavericks love the red light on the television camera more than the strength of their party or the achievement of the party’s broad goals.

I wrote at length on the virtues of party in Painting the Map Red, but in these days when MSM-bias towards Democrats masquerades as a hunt for “bipartisanship” –one or two Republicans joining with Democrats equals a bipartisan effort, five Democrats joining with Republicans does not equal a bipartisan effort– appeals to party are denounced by the free agent self-promoters within political and media elites.

But nothing happens in Congress without party, and Senators Hagel and Snowe have damaged their party, and because their party is the party committed to victory and not just in Iraq but the broader war, they have damaged that prospect as well. .

Reminder: The first two paragraphs of Painting:

If you are a conservative Republican, as I am, you have a right to be worried.  An overconfident and complacent Republican Party could be facing electoral disaster. Hillary Clinton, Howrd Dean, and a host of others could be looming in our future andundoing all the good we’ve tried to do.

It is break the glass and pull the alarm time for the Republican party.  The elections looming in November 2006 are shaping up to be as disastrous for the GOP as the elections of 1994 were for the Democrats.  Most GOP insiders seem unaware of the party’s political peril. Some are resigned to a major defeat as the price we have to pay for a decade of consistent gains, which, they think, couldn’t have gone on forever.

I quote my rather prophetic graphs from March of 2006 as background for this prediction:  Republican senators from blue or purple states that sign on to this resolution will not win re-election. 

The base matters.  And the base supports the president on the war. Conscience may oblige a vote against the president, and the “non-binding” nature of the resolution  may seduce some into believing that it won’t matter much.

Don’t be fooled.  Like the resolution in December of 2005 which called for 2006 to be a “year of transition,” this isn’t a “free vote,” to use the British term for a vote on which party leadership would be indifferent.  The reason is not loyalty to george W. Bush either.

It is because the base sees the horrific slaughter that will follow retreat, as well as the immediate consequences to America.  It is a crucial vote because the stakes are high and understood to be that way.  Desert the party and th epresident and the war now, and it will be very difficult –and probably impossible– to plead ignorance later.

For more on the background to this vote, see the transcripts of my conversations today with Harvard historian Niall Ferguson and Christopher Hitchens.  Only the willfully blind will be surprised by the aftermath of an American withdrawal in Iraq, and certainly no American senator will be able to claim they didn’t see it coming.


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