February 05, 2006

Debating the Alito Factor

Best of the Web (BW) at the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com takes issue with my thesis, in a recent op-ed, that "by choosing to side with [liberal anti-Alito] groups to the bitter end, moderate Democrats have ensured that this failure will also haunt them at the polls." BW's "guess is that Alito opposition won't end up costing most Democrats much at the polls."

While BW is correct that "the three Democrats up for re-election in November who are from the reddest states (Robert Byrd, Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson) all voted for Alito," most of the moderate Democrats voted against Alito. And Senate Democrats' filibuster attempt and nearly unanimous anti-Alito vote reinforces the public perception that the party is in bed with ultra-liberal activists, a perception that affects all Democratic senators.

BW also argues that "while it's true that Democrats, especially Tom Daschle, paid a price in 2004 for Daschle's filibuster strategy, they did so in substantial part because that strategy was successful, leaving them vulnerable to charges of obstructionism." But I believe that the harm to Democrats from Daschle's filibuster strategy came as much, or more, from the public's perception that it was the Democrats, rather than Bush's judicial nominees, who were out of the mainstream. And that perception is even stronger post-Alito than it was in 2004.

Note that Michael Crowley of the liberal New Republic reported Friday that Senate Democrats themselves fear damage at the polls from their handling of Alito's nomination:

"In a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats last Wednesday, Kerry and Kennedy made a vigorous plea for a filibuster. But they were challenged by Harry Reid and by no less a Bush nominee-basher than Chuck Schumer of New York, who, as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is responsible for overseeing the party's 2006 Senate races. Schumer understood, as did Reid and many other Democrats, that the Alito nomination had already put vulnerable Democratic incumbents and candidates from red states in an awkward position--pulled between pro-Bush voters and the demands of liberal interest groups, activists, and bloggers. Forcing those Democrats to choose sides on yet another vote would only heighten their agony."