Sen. Tammy Baldwin announced last week that she would oppose Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
That’s fine by me, though I think Gorsuch is about as good a nominee as liberals can expect from the likes of Donald Trump. Sure, he’s very conservative, but he also seems tethered to reality and, as far as we know, has no ties to Vladimir Putin.
Frankly, I would have been okay if Baldwin had announced that she was waiting for his nomination hearings before deciding. I also would have supported her if she had said that she would split her votes: voting with majority Republicans to end debate but then voting against Gorsuch.
But my tolerance doesn’t stop there. I would be behind Baldwin if she had shocked us all and announced that she would vote for Gorsuch because he was qualified and that the president, even this president, should get the nominee he chooses — much like Russ Feingold voted for George Bush’s nominee for Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Actually, my tolerance knows no bounds. I would even have supported Baldwin if she had said that she planned to disinter the body of the late Justice Antonin Scalia and vote to return him to the court because a dead constitution deserves a similarly positioned justice.
In fact, between now and the November 2018 general election, I would be okay with Tammy Baldwin voting for or against anything or anyone that, in her solid political judgment, will help her get re-elected.
To paraphrase Trump, Democrats don’t win anymore. They have to start winning again. They have to start winning so much that they’ll complain about how much they’re winning and beg to lose just a few seats. But their leaders should say, no, they won’t allow that.
It is not surprising to me that Baldwin is getting pressure from her base to take an uncompromising hard liberal line on everything that comes before her. But her base should be more practical. Come January 2019, do you want to see a pure Tammy Baldwin join Russ Feingold on the lecture circuit? Or would you rather see a pragmatic Sen. Baldwin be sworn in for another six years?
It has come down to this. Liberal backs are pressed up so hard against the wall that they have no other place to go. Liberal activists don’t have the luxury of pushing their few remaining elected officials to take stands that would endanger their survival.
Unless I’m wrong.
It looks as if the left is trying to take a chapter from the tea party playbook, pressuring their own partisans to be even more uncompromising. There’s no question that it worked for the far right; why shouldn’t it work for the left?
Maybe it will, but there is reason to be skeptical. Tea partiers had a built-in advantage because their base of older, whites was more reliable about showing up in off-year elections — like 2010 was and 2018 will be. A nagging problem for the left is that a chunk of its base of younger and more diverse people tends to sit out elections that don’t involve the presidency.
Then there’s the question of issue discipline. The tea party pretty much stayed focused on a handful of big government issues: Obamacare, the auto company and Wall Street bailouts and the stimulus package. It was a unifying theme: Big government is always bad even when it benefits you.
But liberals — in part because the label covers a more diverse group of folks — tend to be all over the place with their causes. And the more issues a movement tries to put at its center, the more people might be put off by one or two of those items and fall off the bandwagon.
I get it. Liberals are angry, and they are presented with more reason to be angry every day. But anger clouds judgment.
I would be for tea party tactics if I thought they might work for the left. But it seems to me that the more promising strategy is to win back some of the Obama voters who went for Trump in 2016. Still, that too is a strategy that would require the kind of issue and message discipline that the left has never been very good at.
The bottom line is that I trust Baldwin’s instincts. I have known Tammy Baldwin since she and I served together on the Dane County Board almost three decades ago. I know her to be one of the finest human beings I have ever met and one of the brightest politicians. For now she remains standing as the only Democrat holding a statewide office of real significance. Her base should give her free rein to exercise her outsized political judgment in her fight to stay there.