Buried in this story about Republican angst over Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign in Alaska is this nugget about the GOP leadership fulfilling a promise:
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) also reacted coldly to Murkowski’s decision. In a terse statement Friday night, he reported Murkowski has been removed as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference.
“By choosing to run a campaign against the Republican nominee, she no longer has my support for serving in any leadership roles, and I have accepted her letter of resignation from Senate leadership,” McConnell said in the statement.
Republicans said the decision wasn’t personal, but made clear they are cutting their ties.
“It’s strictly business,” a senior GOP aide said. “She’s running against a Republican. She’s no longer one of us. Period.”
Now, it’s not at all clear that Murkowski’s candidacy even puts the Senate seat in peril for the Republicans. Aside from the fact that her personal chances of winning are plausible but difficult, given the vagaries of a write-in campaign, the polling thus far has shown that her inclusion makes it LESS likely that Democrat Scott McAdams will take the seat. McAdams’ path to victory was predicated on picking up disaffected Murkowski voters. I don’t think anyone believes that Murkowski, even while being stripped of her leadership credentials, has the profile or voting record of someone who would caucus with Democrats. So while Murkowski is courting an independent electorate and talking of disappointment that the GOP has “turned their backs” on her, I don’t see caucus-switching as a realistic reality. And if McAdams’ chances just tanked, then the seat will comfortably remain in the hands of someone who will caucus with Republicans.
All of this is to say that the GOP responded to Murkowski’s action not because she really threatened the seat, but because she didn’t follow their rules. Now, when Joe Lieberman didn’t go quietly in 2006, the Democratic leadership tolerated it, members of the Democratic caucus openly supported it and campaigned with him, and there were basically no repercussions for his actions, not even when he supported the Republican nominee for President two years later. By the way, Lieberman can now be seen organizing support against the President on his tax plan, and trying to get an extension on tax cuts for millionaires.
But when Murkowski doesn’t even put a seat into play, she gets yanked from her leadership post within three days of her announcement. It will be interesting to see if they take her committee assignments away as well, or take away her seniority at the beginning of the next Congress, if she wins. I tend to think they won’t hesitate. Mitch McConnell has very definitive ideas about how to run a caucus, and thus far under his leadership is has turned pretty much every Senate Republican into an obstructionist automaton.