This story looks like a local one on the surface, but has implications for Senate seats across the country. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) is manipulating the Senatorial primary process, and maneuvering to retain his own power in a minority party rather than trying to win a majority.
Rep. Mark Shimkus (R-IL) endorsed Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in Kirk's candidacy for U.S. Senate. Ordinarily, an endorsement of a Representative of the Senate candidacy of another Representative from his own State would not cause much of a fuss. But Shimkus says he was heavily influenced by Cornyn, Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. If what Shimkus says of Cornyn's strategy is true, and I think it is, then I call on John Cornyn to resign as head of the NRSC.
First, some background. As John Hawkins pointed out on September 1, Cornyn has continued the failed NRSC 2006 and 2008 strategy of backing establishment candidates in primary contests against more conservative candidates. Examples include his endorsement of Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio, which Cornyn rationalized in a Redstate post. See the Hawkins link for more nationwide examples of Cornyn's foolish strategy. Hawkins also notes Cornyn's current tactic of hiding his actions from the light of day with a more manipulative approach to picking primary winners.
Illinois is a blue State, and I recognize the value of supporting candidates who can draw liberal and independent voters in blue State environments. In a big tent, there is room for disagreement on an issue or two. But Kirk is DIRT (Democrat in Republican Toga), and the base does not and will not support him. And there are some special considerations in this race.
Kirk is running in the Republican primary for the seat to be vacated by scandal-plagued seat-warmer Roland Burris, appointed under a cloud by impeached ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The people of Illinois are seriously embarrassed by the way our State has been made a political joke, and are fed up with the corruption in their State. Downstaters especially are determined not to let the Chicago cesspool wash its stink over us. Kirk is a Chicago candidate, and cannot use that sentiment.
William Bence, talk host on WCRA AM1090 in Effingham, Illinois, interviewed Shimkus on Friday, September 18. Bence asked Shimkus why he endorsed Kirk. Mr. Shimkus answered, "41". As if realizing how arrogant his answer sounded, he then quickly explained that his most important goal for the Senate is to get enough Republican Senators to mount a filibuster.
It is circular logic to use that as a reason to endorse Kirk, since obviously all Republicans want to be able to filibuster. Consequently, any Republican elected would provide an additional Republican vote -- at least on some issues.
And that is the problem. In Congress, Rep. Kirk has voted with the liberal majority on abortion, gun control, gay marriage, and most recently on the Waxman-Markey cap & trade bill, so there is no indication that Kirk would be a reliable Republican vote against cloture on issues like those once in the Senate.
Shimkus raised the point that Kirk was representing a liberal district, and it was his duty to represent the will of his constituents. Kirk gave the same answer when announcing a flip-flop on cap & trade. But won't Kirk be likely to follow the will of the people of the blue State of Illinois when they poll liberally on some issue?
"41," comes the reply. Shimkus also notes Kirk's record of successful campaigns and fundraising ability. With that endorsement, Shimkus (and Cornyn) help ensure that no other candidate will be able to raise money.
The NRSC 41 strategy is a failure not only because of the weakness of the candidates they are choosing, but because it has led directly to the public perception, voiced loudly in the Tea Parties and town hall meetings all over the country, that Republicans stand for nothing, and that there is no difference between the Democrat and Republican parties.
The strategy is also a failure because it is limited by its very design to preserving a Democrat majority in the Senate. The candidates the NRSC chooses to back will never form a viable majority to vote for Republican legislation. They will require constant arm-twisting and pork bribery to keep in the fold, and the arm-twisting will become more difficult the more similar Republicans there are to give them cover. The liberal Republicans will form their own faction, and will be able to leverage their position to be the deciding votes on issue after issue. This is not hypothetical, as it happens regularly even now.
William Bence is skeptical of Shimkus' reasoning. In response to my questions about the interview, Bence said:
As for voting the way of his constituency on Waxman-Markey, Shimkus said he believed Kirk had changed after touring the coal mine and energy plants. I pointed out to him that many of us didn't need to take that tour to know that Waxman-Markey would make a hit on the energy industry. Shimkus replied that Kirk voted the way of his constituents and that a power plant in his district had been urging him to do so also. Shimkus said some in the power industry urged passage of Waxman-Markey because they wanted 'certainty' on what energy policy was going to be and hoped to avoid more damaging legislation. Shimkus said he thought they were naive on this point and he also acknowledged that the power plant in Kirk's district may have benefitted from the issue of free carbon credits from the administration, or other perks, for signing onto Waxman-Markey.
As for abortion, Shimkus said Kirk was for the Hyde Amendment, and that he would oppose funding of abortion in health care reform. I'm not convinced. Kirk has a 100% rating from NARAL. He voted against state funding protections for health care providers (including health insurers) that don't provide abortion referrals, payments for, or services. He voted against expanding conscience protections for health care workers. That was the September 25, 2002 Bill HR 4691.
Shimkus says he endorsed Kirk after a long conversation with John Cornyn. Cornyn convinced him that the most important thing was to get Republicans in the Senate, and that means setting the bar for acceptable candidates to "anyone willing to run with an R". To get the endorsement of the NRSC, one then has to have the most money, which will make the NRSC's job easier. They see their job as finding candidates who can win and endorsing them.
Shimkus said that Cornyn told him that the NRSC would lend financial support to Kirk if he won the primary. I think the clear implication was that no other candidate would receive such support.
But in the current environment, across the nation but especially in scandal-plagued Illinois, a bag of oranges with an R after its name could get elected -- if the Party were behind it. That bag of oranges will get national funds, too, when people realize that it's Obama's old seat and that the Republican is running against Obama and Blagojevich cronies.
But there are better candidates than a bag of oranges, and better candidates than Mark Kirk.
At least in this regard, Shimkus and Cornyn appear oblivious to the electoral tsunami of conservative push-back against the way things are going in Washington. Conservatives are going to vote at record levels, and independents are going to vote R. Choosing Kirk (and similar candidates across the country, like Charlie Crist in Florida) will have the effect of dampening that turnout, dampening base enthusiasm, and wasting an opportunity of historic proportions. It's the kind of thing that starts third parties.
Shimkus and Cornyn also appear oblivious to the need for boots on the ground. You're going to need people to go door to door, hand out signs, and man the phones, gentlemen. Who do you suppose will do that for you, when you do stuff like this to us? Long-term Republicans are energized, and willing to do the drudge work if it will mean more conservative Republicans in office. We are not willing to work for DIRT.
As the Downstate Illinois Advocate says,
I refuse to kow-tow to Chicago. I refuse to support a candidate that holds little to no values that I hold just because Congressman Shimkus or the NRSC says so. Sure, he looks good against the alternative, but look who you are comparing him to. Roland Burris? Dick Durbin? Against Alexi Giannoulias? Why are so many people scared of Giannoulias? Because he's from Chicago and he is Obama's protégé? Bumpkus. The Congressman and others underestimate how angry the people are. Plus, Giannoulias won't have the help of a Presidential election turnout to help him as much. Giannoulias can be beat, and will be beat whether we have a Kirk or a conservative candidate. This is about sending the RIGHT (as in choice and political beliefs) to DC to serve in the Senate.
Shimkus is a conservative, and Kirk is ... not a conservative. He is pro-abortion, and voted for Cap&Tax. Cornyn picked him, and wants to make sure Illinois voters don't get a chance to decide who their own Senator will be.
For Shimkus' part, he says Kirk will "owe him" for the endorsement. Rep. Shimkus, you are dreaming the same dream Cornyn is. Once in the Senate, Kirk will forget your name and not return your calls.
The biggest reason Cornyn has to go is "41". He should be thinking of how to get to 51, or 60. Thinking 41 is defeatist and indicates a lack of vision. He is manipulating the primary process, and maneuvering to retain his own power in a minority party rather than trying to win a majority.
Step aside, Senator.