The other night, Turner Classic Movies showed “The Best Man,” the 1964 film based on Gore Vidal’s play, about two Democratic presidential candidates at a brokered convention in Los Angeles (the Coliseum and Sports Arena are among the locations). The good guy, played by Henry Fonda, has gotten ahold of some dirt on the bad guy, Cliff Robertson — evidence of a homosexual liaison — that he’s reluctant to use. But he knows Robertson has dirt on him — evidence of past mental health problems.
Fonda and Robertson end up meeting in a supply closet to have a tense discussion in which Fonda says he’ll bury his dirt if Robertson will also bury his, but Robertson refuses. Ever the principled one, Fonda decides he’s too good to use his dirt on Robertson, but has to stop Robertson somehow. So he drops out and engineers the nomination of a dark-horse candidate.
I don’t know how much of what Blanton reports is true and how much just wishful thinking by Republicans who face their own divisions in the upcoming election. But I credit the reportage to some degree. I would not be surprised that the party’s dreadful current leadership would use the tactics described below. If this really is a ‘civil war,’ it’s one I hope both sides lose.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what Blanton thinks is going on:
There is a growing sense of restlessness on Capitol Hill and it is not the majority that has this sense. With Democrats potentially on the cusp of making a significant dent in the Republican majority, tensions that have been well below the surface are starting to spill out and may soon boil over into a Democrat civil war.
Various people on Capitol Hill tell me that the Democrats are struggling to keep their internal disputes from boiling over. They all lay the blame at Howard Dean and the Democrat leadership on Capitol Hill failing to get along. Right now, individuals loyal to Howard Dean are compiling dossiers on embattled Senate minority leader Harry Reid and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Couple these potential trouble spots with the pending William Jefferson plea bargain, Democrat netroots leader Kos’ perceived selling out to the establishment through his failure to engage the DLC and failure to back Hackett in Ohio, and the failure of the minority to rally around one set of talking points and you have the a higher chance of a Democrat civil war than an Iraqi civil war.
Howard Dean has compiled a solid file on the corruption of Harry Reid. For years Reid has operated as the quintessential back room politician, trading favors and legislation for money and choice positions for his children at top firms with high salaries. Reid’s ties to Jack Abramoff are more extensive than some of the Republicans allegedly tied to Abramoff. Dean himself said that any Democrat doing favors for Abramoff’s clients would be a “big problem.” He knew before he said it that Reid had done so.
Nancy Pelosi’s husband is rumored to be living large off her name and power. Individuals out to bring down Pelosi, viewing her as a threat to potential Democrat gains, are, as I write, digging through records around Washington trying to pull a Harry Reid on Nancy Pelosi — they’ll try to tie her to legislation and lobbyists via her husband’s connections and clients.
More and more the grand coalition between activists and establishment is coming unglued. Nuclear bonds that once held together the various elements of the party are starting to weaken as the various factions each come to their own conclusions about what it’ll take to win in November and what it will take to solidify positions.
Dean wants to keep quiet on Pelosi and Reid to leverage his own position in the party. Democrats, including Pelosi and Reid, who blame Dean for a lack of fundraising prowess are out to get him. The competing dynamic had led to détente beween the parties. But House Democrats convinced that Pelosi is more of a liability than an asset are plotting to oust her on the information Dean has. Netroots, starting to bristle under what they perceive as growing ties between Kos and an out of touch establishment, want revenge for Alito. A mixture of netroots activists and establishment figures are waking up to the fact that the Republicans have the same dossier on the Democrats that Dean does and, should the Democrats keep beating the corruption drum, Republicans will begin beating the Democrats over the head with it. William Jefferson’s problems add to this.
Democrats who were once assured of their 2006 strategy are starting to be less sure. Several prominent Democrats, seeing that the Republicans in Congress are still twiddling their thumbs over reform are ready to show Democrat competent, and in the process are willing to take a few of their own leadership’s scalps. The nuclear bonds are getting weaker and weaker. The only question now is whether the bond will fully break down before or after November.