Why Some Republicans Don't Want to Win the Senate

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What good is the United States Senate if you can’t use it?

That’s the question quietly being asked by several prominent Republicans on election day, as the GOP stands poised to capture the House and, just possibly, the Senate.

But two prominent inside-the-Beltway Republicans told me yesterday that they’re worried about Republicans taking over the Senate, because of the political hand it would give President Obama going into 2012.

It isn’t every day that political figures tell me why it would be bad for their party to win on election day.

But here’s their case: Unemployment is at near 10 percent and is going to stay at politically toxic levels for a long time. If unemployment goes down at the pace it went up, which is no sure bet given that that would represent a spectacular economic boom that few economists predict, it will still be high by historical standards in 2012.

And these Republicans worry that a unified Republican House and Senate will bear some of the brunt of voter anger about that unemployment—anger that’s now almost entirely focused on the Obama administration.

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“I hope to hell they don’t take control in the Senate,” said one prominent Republican lobbyist. “Probably the best scenario for Obama is if the Republicans sweep.”

To be very sure, this is a minority view: Most Republicans are rooting for the biggest win they can get. On Monday, I asked Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Texas), what he thought. As the head of the Republican Senate campaign operation, he said he’s focused on winning as many seats as he can. And long-time Republican anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist scoffed at the idea that Republicans wouldn’t want to take the Senate. “That’s silly talk,” he said.

Still, other Republicans are playing a political version of three-dimensional chess, arguing that they won’t be able to do much with the Senate if they do win, given that Democrats will filibuster almost any legislation that comes out of a Republican House, and Obama will veto anything that manages to get to his desk. About all the Republicans in the Senate can hope for is to mount a rear-guard action against the Obama agenda—preventing any more sweeping legislation like the Wall Street reform bill, health care and the stimulus package.

“It’s a hand you can’t win,” said another prominent Republican strategist, saying a tenuous Democratic majority in the Senate is his favored outcome in 2010.

“If you control Congress, you get almost half the blame for the lousy economy. The president will always get more blame than Congress, but why take the blame if you’re not going to be able to do anything in the Senate?”

In the conservative Washington Times newspaper this week, James Robbins wrote that he's trying to separate his emotional reaction from his rational analysis: "Don't get me wrong, I would enjoy the epic Democratic humiliation symbolized by a Republican Senate takeover as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy isn't Harry Reid [Senate Majority Leader, D-Nev.]. But that thrill would be short-lived as the realities of Washington politics set in."

He added: "If the GOP takes only the House, as seems likely, the story line becomes more muddled, which favors the Republicans."