Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What does Ron Johnson's Loss for the Senate Republican Caucus Vice Chairmanship Mean?

Well, isn't this an absurd thing to speculate about?

Yes, of course it is, but that's not going to stop us from doing so.

Johnson lost his race to become the Senate GOP's fifth ranking member today. No, seriously, we're actually talking about this. So what does it all mean? Here are a few interpretations.

1.) The Tea Party has been marginalized. Johnson received the backing of several prominent conservatives yesterday, including Erik Erikson of Redstate.com, who hilariously called the race the "conservative fight of the year," and a positive write-up at National Review. Even FreedomWorks got into the act on behalf of Johnson. None of that was apparently enough to sway enough GOP Senators.

2.) The vote was close. 25-22 is pretty close, but given the size of the electorate a close vote was likely. The vote does suggest a narrowly divided GOP, but one in which the Tea Party is still a minority.

3.) Alternatively, the Tea Party could be growing in power. The press are playing this thing off as a rebuke to the Tea Party, but there's just as likely a chance that it's actually a demonstration of the Tea Party's growing influence. If the GOP takes over the Senate next year, as many folks project, one would imagine that they will do so with Tea Party folk. If this happens a leadership vote this time next year will likely have a very different result with much higher stakes.

4.) Johnson has yet to win over many of his colleagues. Every last one of the Senators who publicly supported Johnson's bid had a very clear reason for doing so: all of them would have endorsed the "Tea Party candidate" no matter who it was.

5.) Johnson's loss may prevent him from pursuing future party leadership positions or leadership opportunities in the Tea Party. Losing never looks good on a resume.

6.) Johnson's statement following the loss was not very gracious. In fact, it rather obviously oozed with bitterness and resentment. If he hasn't yet mastered how to cajole and work his colleagues, this is not a good sign that he will be able to do so in the future.

7.) FreedomWorks may not have been supported Johnson so much as it was campaigning against Blunt. Why? Blunt was an ally of Tom DeLay during the latter's time a majority leader in the House. FreedomWorks is run by Dick Armey, one of DeLay's principle rivals.

8.) Paul Ryan really doesn't have much influence in the Senate. Ryan made an unprecedented endorsement that didn't seem to make any difference. There have been whispers about Johnson being little more than a mouthpiece for Ryan in the Senate. The endorsement probably did little to quell those rumors.

9.) It was foolish for Johnson to go up against Blunt. Roy Blunt is now in his third decade on Capitol Hill. His family is political royalty in an important swing state, he's connecting to K Street up the wazzou, and actually has legislative leadership experience. These were all supposed to be reasons against Blunt's candidacy, but in the end they seemed to have served him pretty well. Some folks are calling Blunt's win  "inevitable."

11.) The loss weakens Johnson's already weak position. Unless Blunt is an incredibly magnanimous human being, he'll likely punish Johnson in small ways for challenging him (not inviting Johnson to leadership meetings, etc.).

12.) If Johnson does find himself in the doghouse, he'll have a hard time getting out. Johnson is not known as a fundraising dynamo nor has he demonstrated any policy expertise that would make him a go-to guy on any particular issue. Finding friends will be pretty tough when you can't offer them anything.

13.) Johnson's image as a "citizen-legislator" is over. Johnson has always portrayed himself as an outsider, but he made a play to be an insider. The price of making that play was Johnson's status as an outsider. Now he's lost both his outsider status and his position in the Senate GOP leadership.

14.) Johnson may have positioned himself to win a leadership position after the 2012 elections. Of the five leadership positions in the GOP Senate caucus, one is being vacated by Sen. John Kyl when he retires following this term. That means the three members behind him could all move up a position, freeing up the vice chairmanship for yet another election. Having done it before, and gotten a little more seniority under his belt, Johnson might be in a better position to win the leadership pot next year.

15.) Don't bet on #12. Many of the Senate candidate that did endorse Johnson are considered "long-shots."

16.) That being said, Johnson just missed a golden opportunity to win the #5 leadership position today and turn it into the #4 leadership position a year from now doing nothing but keeping out of trouble.

17.) The loss calls into question Johnson's ability to get things done in Washington. To date Johnson has sponsored a grand total of three bills and one resolution since taking office. Only his resolution "supporting the goals and ideals of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and raising awareness and enhancing the state of cybersecurity in the United States" has gotten anywhere. There have been at least 1944 bills introduced in the Senate alone this year: that's an average of 19.44 per Senator. Johnson's work product is well behind the rest of his colleagues.

18.) The run calls into question Johnson's priorities. Johnson announced his bid on September 21st of this year. The three bills he introduced were all submitted after his announcement. One wonders if is effectiveness in passing his legislative agenda was hampered by his leadership ambitions.


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