Let me begin wherethis column will end, at TheNRSCPledge.com.
Republicans disagree among themselves on scores of issues. It is genuinely a big tent party, and rarely if ever does the “base” demand party discipline. In recent years the only sitting GOP senator to find himself rejected by large number of activists and donors was Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, who not only voted against the invasion of Iraq and the confirmation of Samuel Alito, but declined even to vote for the re-election of President Bush. Many loyal party members not only opposed Chafee’s re-election, they refused to support the National Republican Senatorial Committee because the NRSC was helping to fund the Chafee campaign.
The NRSC had a disastrous cycle, losing six United States senate seats, as a dispirited GOP base simply did not contribute as much or work as hard as it had in the successful cycles of 2004 and 2002. Lincoln Chafee was one drag. The Gang of 14 another. The refusal to use the majority that had required so much effort resulted in the loss of that majority.
Now, less than a month into the new Congress, the Senate Republicans face another crucial moment, one that will reverberate long into 2008. Senator Joseph Biden has offered a cut-and-run resolution on Iraq, a resolution that only Chuck Hagel voted for in committee and which will not receive a vote because the Democrats lack 60 votes to bring it to a vote.
Eager to assure that the Senate somehow undermined the war effort, however, Virginia’s John Warner once again stepped forward with a second, slightly milder resolution blasting the president’s war strategy in its most crucial aspects. Some GOP senators indicated they were favorably disposed to the Warner resolution, including Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Gordon Smith of Oregon.
On Wednesday, general David Petraeus, widely regarded as the best man for the job of winning the war in Iraq, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In response to a direct question from Senator Lieberman, General Petraeus testified under oath that any resolution denouncing the strategy in Iraq would encourage the enemy. I heard it, and have played the tape repeatedly on my program. I confirmed in an interview with Tony Snow yesterday (transcript here) that this is indeed how he understood General Petraeus as well. There can be no doubt about what the question was and how he answered.