Washington As Republicans in Washington awoke Thursday to the reality that they would soon lose their control of the Senate, they examined the workings of the new Bush White House to divine what went wrong, and to answer the question: Who lost Jeffords?
One wrong turn after another was cited in the aftermath of the decision by Sen. James Jeffords to become an independent, throwing control of the Senate to the Democrats: The slight that occurred when he was not invited to the White House for a ceremony honoring a constituent as Teacher of the Year; the failure to heed his interest in providing money for special education; and, indeed, overlooking his role as chairman of the Senate committee handling education legislation.
But in the end, there may have been little that any Republican could have done to keep Jeffords in the party. From his own words, it appeared his disaffection had been growing for some time. That did not stop the blame game among Republicans in the Capitol, in the White House, aboard Air Force One with the traveling president, and among lobbyists and political consultants.
All day long, Republicans placing blame pointed to President Bush, as the commander of his party. They pointed to the senior White House staff, an amalgam of old Washington hands and D.C. rookies who have long ties to the new president. There were complaints that the Republican Senate leaders were deaf to the interests of their minority moderates.
For his part, Jeffords put it this way: "Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I'll disagree with the president on very fundamental issues the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax-and-spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment, and a host of other issues, large and small. ...
"Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me and for me to deal with them." he said.
In looking at the Republican landscape, Richard Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, made this recommendation to the Bush team about its future operations: Pay attention to other Republican senators, most notably Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and John McCain of Arizona, who might also feel unwanted in the party.
Rich Williamson, who held senior posts in the Reagan administration, said there was a lesson to be learned in the efforts of House Speaker Dennis Hastert to listen to the party's backbenchers. His implied message: The Senate GOP leadership, under soon-to-be Minority Leader Trent Lott, and the Bush White House, failed to make the moderates a part of the party.