One of the most consistent media themes of the last few years has been the “divisive” efforts of conservatives to “drive people out” of the Republican Party.” You probably noticed this in stories about Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter, both of whom were described as being “driven” from the party even though both left in the face of certain defeat at the hands of primary voters.
At least in Specter’s case, there was some small grain of truth to the claim: Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had just informed him that he would be supporting his conservative rival (now-Sen. Pat Toomey) in the 2010 GOP primary. That would be feeble as a main reason for quitting the party, but perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But now we have today’s retirement announcement by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. As recently as last Wednesday, Baucus was acting like a senator seeking re-election. He was attempting to distance himself from Obamacare (a bill he basically wrote). Also last week his campaign announced a quarterly fundraising haul of $1.5 million, giving him $5 million cash on hand.
So what happened? Baucus voted against gun control. And in response, Organizing for Action — the post-campaign incarnation of the Obama campaign — announced a campaign to “punish our enemies.” Note that Baucus was at the top of the enemies’ list:
Jon Carson, executive director of Organizing for Action, told the Los Angeles Times / Tribune Washington Bureau on Thursday that the group will train its resources against the 45 senators who opposed the legislation, including Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
“What is happening right now is the reason that OFA needs to be here: to harness the energy and determination of people,” Carson said…”That’s the calculation that some senators were mistaken on…. The consequences they’re going to have to face are a bunch of angry constituents who are going to keep the issue alive.”
This is unlike Specter because Baucus is not changing parties, but it’s similar because polls were showing him very weak back home. Like Specter, he feared a primary (albeit by a more conservative Democrat). The group that’s so close to President Obama that it sells access to him for $500,000 a pop has now driven Baucus out of office for bucking party orthodoxy on gun control last week.
Baucus was already facing a tough slog, and now the president, whose water he had carried on health care, is going to start harassing him in Montana. Can you blame him for saying, “To hell with this?”