Was it “remarkable” for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to duck a question about potential primary challenges to incumbent Democrats? Not this year’s elections, mind you, but hypothetical races four years in the future.
That was how The Hill put it when Schumer batted away a question from CNN about whether the top Senate Democrat would back Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia if progressive activists and their standard bearers in the Senate get behind primary challengers to take on the moderate duo.
“I am focused on 2022, getting things done, and winning the election in 2022,” Schumer told CNN last week. “I’m not at all focused on 2024 right now, and neither should anyone else be. That’s just how you lose in 2022.”
This is “remarkable” in the same way that it would be remarkable if I said “no, thank you” to having a hive full of angry bees placed in my car while I drove through rush-hour traffic. What sane person would weigh in on an imaginary future race when he is trying to preserve a one-seat majority in the current campaign?
The political press pounced on Schumer’s deflection as evidence of the potency of the ire of progressives. The left wingers have reserved a special place in hell, or the underworld of your choosing, for Manchin and Sinema for blocking a social welfare and green energy spending package and, even worse, their support for maintaining the 60-vote threshold for legislation in the Senate. New England progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are spoiling for a primary fight with their moderate counterparts. It has all the makings of a buddy movie. It’s like the Pepperidge Farm guys versus Wayne and Garth. Excellent.
But none of that is Schumer’s concern until Wednesday, Nov. 9. By then he will know (we hope) who will control the Senate starting in 2023 and the strategic importance of every seat in 2024. And while it’s a long shot, if Democrats take a bad thumping this fall, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of the possible for the party’s leader in the Senate to step aside. Schumer doesn’t even know what Sinema and Manchin will do themselves. Manchin could run for governor again; Sinema might walk away if things get nasty enough—2024 is about 3,000 news cycles away, so who knows?
But if the political fundamentals stay about as they are for Democrats—and especially so if they get worse—whomever the Democratic leader is in 2024 would walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon while yodeling “Take Me Home, Country Roads” if that’s what it takes to keep Manchin and Sinema in the Senate as Democrats.
Pointing out that obvious fact would get Schumer nothing with the moderates, who do not benefit in their home states by any strong association with the Democratic leadership. And if he said he was considering doing something that would actually be “remarkable”—preemptively cutting off sitting members in a 50-50 Senate—it would turn the existing fractures in the party into crevasses just in time to turn the current campaign into a total disaster.
But Schumer knows what his job is, so he’s not going to do anything like that. Schumer’s job is to make the Senate as Democratic as possible by winning new seats and protecting existing ones. His colleagues did not elevate him to power so that he could pursue a specific ideological agenda, but rather so he could raise massive sums from his friends in the financial sector, studiously avoid controversy, and defer to individual senators in almost everything else. He is supposed to help win elections so that Democrats have more control. What they do with it is up to them.
Which brings us to the Republican National Committee and its decision to un-Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming for agreeing to serve on the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack and former President Trump’s effort to steal a second term.