There a several story lines for the midterm elections, and the concession of Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her party’s primary appears to confirm them all: Voters are mad, so mad they’ll nominate a relative unknown. No one is safe this year, not even established incumbents in the party expected to pick up dozens of seats in November. People want to shake up Washington.
But there’s another theme, and one that does not bode well for a more functional Congress next year. Members of a bitterly divided and hostile Congress are being punished for not being angry and hostile enough.
Murkowski’s a solid conservative (though her support for abortion rights has rankled some in her party). She arrived in Washington with some baggage--her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to the job--but she quickly earned a reputation in both parties for being a hard worker. She’s been an unrelenting supporter of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and big tax cuts. She doesn’t break GOP filibusters.
But she apparently was still just a bit too cooperative for Alaska Republican primary voters, who didn’t like her vote for the Wall Street bailout in 2008 (never mind that the Bush White House was desperate for the plan, worried that a bank implosion would lead to another Great Depression). In a Congress hampered by a Sharks vs. Jets standoff, Murkowski apparently just didn’t obstruct enough for angry Alaska primary voters, who nominated Tea Party movement-approved Joe Miller.
Murkowski was never a yeller, and showed a compassion and collegiality that is disappearing from the Senate. In 2007, former GOP Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was largely shunned by his colleagues, who were scandalized over Craig’s arrest for allegedly soliciting sex from another man in an airport bathroom. While other Republican senators treated Craig like he had cooties, Murkowski walked across the Senate floor and very publicly gave Craig a hug. It wasn’t a political statement, or judgment on what may or may not have happened in that men’s room. It was just a show of friendship and support for a colleague who was going through the worst time of his life.
The GOP Senate nominee in Alaska, meanwhile, begins his general election campaign with a somewhat different tone, being forced to explain why his campaign’s Twitter account suggested Murkowski was, well, a whore. “What’s the difference between selling out your party’s values and the oldest profession?” said the tweet, which was subsequently removed. Miller said the reference was to the Libertarian party, and not to Murkowski herself. A quick backpedal, but not an encouraging sign for comity in the next Senate.