In response to my earlier post, Dan McCarthy says, “Yglesias is exactly right: if the Republicans want to start winning again, the party as a whole — and not just the occasional Chafee — is going to have to repudiate the war.” I don’t disagree that a different GOP take on Iraq would be desirable. But for the duration of the Bush and perhaps a future McCain administration that seems unlikely. So the specific point I was addressing was: Would individual Republican senators really have helped themselves by being more independent? I still think the answer is no, because the GOP is thoroughly associated with the Bush-McCain brand.
Dan himself explains why: “[O]utlying dissenters risk getting shot by both sides: antiwar voters blame them for their party affiliation, while the party base may reject them for deviating from the Republican line.” MoveOn.org protested outside of Hostettler’s office even though he voted against the war and his Democratic opponent was no dove. In Chafee’s case, it was a bit more rational: His reelection bid was one of the races that was going to determine which party controlled the Senate, and antiwar voters may have decided it was better to have the Senate controlled by an ostensibily antiwar party.
John Sununu probably wouldn’t help himself by flipping on the war. Norm Coleman and Gordon Smith don’t seem to have helped themselves by triangulating ever so slightly. If the Republican dissenters shifted the center of gravity within the party, that might make a difference. But in individual cases it won’t make much difference, and as much as I like the dissenters I also understand the political incentives that keep their numbers to a minimum.