Against Compromise

So Trent Lott and Ben Nelson are pushing a compromise that would bring four of the blocked nominees to the floor, kill three of them, and end the Republican effort to kill the filibuster. But according to the new WaPo/ABC News poll, only 26% support "changing the Senate's rules to make it easier for Republicans to confirm Bush's nominees", while 66% oppose it. That's quite a majority firmly in opposition, and it includes almost half the Republicans surveyed. More interesting, from the perspective of who'd win a media war over the issue, is this question: "The Senate has confirmed 35 federal appeals court judges nominated by Bush, while Senate Democrats have blocked 10 others. Do you think the Senate Democrats are right or wrong to block those nominations?" 48% think the Democrats are right, 36% think them wrong. And that's a much softer numerical comparison than the one Reid uses (I think he's got a 195-10 number, or something similar).

So why compromise? Numbers like this ensure that Frist simply won't have the votes. Neither the principled Republicans nor the opportunists are going to feel safe on the nuclear option bandwagon. So let him go ahead and try to force the issue. Let's say, hypothetically, he got the votes. Is this a fight he can win? The Senate comes to a screeching halt, the talk shows focus on the protection/dissolution of minority rights, and folks don't understand why Republicans have broken with years of tradition over 10 nutball judges. Public opinion, already against the GOP solidifies, and Senate Republicans begin to defect, handing the right a HUGE loss and effectively ending Frist's presidential aspirations.

Now, it's certainly true that the outcome isn't as preordained as all that, nothing's ever immutable in politics. But it seems that Reid and Co. could gamble, with reasonable certainty, on killing the nuclear option. And serving Republicans with a defeat on that, right after Social Security and Schiavo, would really solidify perceptions -- and thus the media storyline -- of the right as disorganized and on a downward trajectory, while adding significantly to Democratic momentum. So while I recognize that there's more risk in pushing forward, it seems that the potential rewards are much greater. It codifies GOP overreach, it'll empower Republican moderates, and it'll solidify the power and unity of the Democratic caucus. And I think that's worth the risk.