Dana Bash from CNN brings news that Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, is troubled by the increased influence of reactionary elements in the Republican Party. She should be. And so should her Republican seatmate, Sen. Susan Collins. They face an unappealing choice: to tailor their principles to appease the rabid host, or to lose someday—like their more conservative colleagues Robert Bennett and Lisa Murkowski, or fellow moderate Mike Castle—to a candidate backed by the Tea Party in a Republican primary.
But there may be a third way for Snowe, or Collins. Act proactively and become an Independent. It might not work in other states, like Florida, but New England in general and Maine in particular have a tradition of electing Independents, especially if they have been around awhile and centrist voters know and like them. Angus King was quite a popular governor of Maine. Lowell Weicker served in the Senate as an Independent from Connecticut, as Joe Lieberman does now. Jim Jeffords and Bernie Sanders blazed their own unique trails in Vermont.
Snowe and Collins can still organize with the Senate Republicans and call themselves Independent-Republican, if need be, to reassure the yachting class Down East. But if there were two or three Independent New Englanders (Hi Joe! Hi Scott!), willing to throw their votes as a bloc to the side that makes the best offer, they might not just have a greater say in policy, but delicious clout when control of the Senate is up for grabs. Wouldn't you rather be in the cat bird seat, hearing the Democratic and Republican leaders promise you chairmanships and other plums if you will only go with them, than be dressed down by Republican leaders and threatened with primary opposition if you don't toe the right-wing line?
It depends on the numbers, of course. You would have to be sure that you can capture enough Democratic-leaning independent voters, and Democrats who know and love you, and that all the moderate Republicans will stick by you. Otherwise, you just split your party and lose anyway. But even then, at least you can look at yourself in the mirror. If I were Snowe I'd be running those numbers.