"Hey John, good job," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham whispered to Secretary of State John Kerry, after Kerry testified in the Senate on aid to Ukraine. Graham almost certainly didn't know his encouraging words would be transmitted by Kerry's microphone. "Let me know what I can do to help you with Boehner," Graham added.
Yes, Lindsey Graham is a traitor. He goes on television and delivers large helpings of partisan nonsense about Benghazi or Barack Obama's foreign policy weakness or whatever. But behind the Tea Party's back he tells the secretary of state he has done a good job and offers to help the Obama administration navigate the roiling pathologies of Speaker John Boehner's House of Representatives.
And Graham is not alone. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is also a traitor. In 2011, Alexander announced he was quitting the No. 3 job in the Republican Senate leadership because he was tired of mindless partisan warfare and wanted to foster "consensus."
This week, Alexander's collaboration with the enemy -- working with liberal Senator Charles Schumer of New York no less -- yielded fruit. Senate majority leader Harry Reid agreed to loosen control of the amendment process in return for a promise from Republicans not to turn the Senate floor into a free-fire zone. (The Senate actually passed a bill on March 13, perhaps just to show it could be done.) Unlike Graham, who is up for reelection this year and has attracted moon-based challengers on his right, Alexander doesn't even feel the need to pretend he's anything other than a sensible conservative.
Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio are all traitors. They reached a deal with Democratic senators this week to extend unemployment insurance to the long-term unemployed. This is an implicit rebuke to conservative colleagues who complain that the long-term unemployed are lazy and undeserving. It's also a nod toward the kind of empirical reality -- the number of unemployed exceeds the number of available jobs -- that Republicans often ignore in favor of dogma.
These instances of treason against the Tea Party are all good tidings. But they're unlikely to change much. All of Washington has reoriented itself to accommodate the beliefs and behaviors of a political force that prefers political warfare to any alternatives. Obama scarcely mentioned immigration in an otherwise partisan State of the Union address this year because he still held out hope that immigration legislation might pass the House. To get something from Republicans, the president has to pretend he doesn't want it.
When Graham lets his mask slip, or Alexander feels it's necessary to renounce a leadership role to pursue the greater good, you realize how pathetic it has become. Next year, Republicans may well control the Senate, too. They will be under enormous pressure to fulfill right-wing fantasies, including abolishing Obamacare and ushering in the second coming of Ayn Rand. If they want to do anything productive with their control of Congress, their only option will be more treason.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.
To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at email@example.com