Jonathan Chait

Is Murkowski The Next Lieberman?

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One fascinating angle on Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign for Senate is the question of what kind of Senator she'll be if she wins. In particular, is she going to reinvent herself as a post-partisan centrist? I was interested in her interview with the New York Times magazine this weekend, both for the very fact of it -- she's obviously targetting a different constituency by going to the Times -- and with this line:

But now you’ve decided to try and keep your Senate seat with a write-in campaign, which threatens to split the Republican vote and hand a victory to the Democrats, as Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell are bemoaning.
I have to separate myself from that. I am working for Alaska’s best interests. I am not working for Mitch or for anybody else in my conference. I’m working for my state first.

Now, she does refer to the GOP as "my conference." But she also distances herself from the national party.

Part of what's going on is that national Republicans are lining up to endorse Joe Miller, the Tea Party candidate who knocked off Murkowski in the primary. There's also significant conservative pressure on Senate Republicans to punish Murkowski in other ways. Substantively, I don't blame Republicans for feeling anger at Murkowski. She ran in a primary, which is a fundamental promise to support your party's nominee in the general election, and then broke that promise when it no longer suited her. They have a right to desire vengeance.

At the same time, the example of Joe Lieberman is a cautionary tale. Lieberman always enjoyed winning support from conservatives, but the process of losing the Democratic nomination and seeing his party endorse the duly nominated Democrat infuriated him. He seems to have developed a deep loathing for liberals, and moved further to the right seemingly out of pure spite. It's a natural reaction when you're challenged to hold a seat you feel entitled to -- and Senators generally feel entitled to own their seats for life -- and you percieve your colleagues turning their backs on you. I wonder if we'll see the same process repeated in Murkowski if she wins.

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