Ed Kilgore is managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and a frequent contributor to a variety of political journals.
As the Senate vote on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination draws nigh, most Republicans, privately if not publicly, are probably relieved that this hasn't become a strict party-line (and thus party-defining) vote, much less a filibuster fight, and are ready to move onto other issues.
But cultural conservatives, who are absolutely obsessed with the shape of the Supreme Court, and are bitter about the failure of past Republican presidents to deliver such prizes as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, are not happy about GOP defections on Sotomayor, or the corresponding decision against going to the mats to stop her. And what better messenger could they have for their unhappiness than their disgraced former chieftain, Ralph Reed?
Yes, Ralph's back, having (so far) avoided any indictments over his relationship with Jack Abramoff, and apparently recovered from his embarrassing defeat in a Republican primary in 2006 to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia (en route, he reportedly assumed, to much higher political glory). He's founded a new group called the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which religion-and-politics writer Dan Gilgoff calls "the Christian Coalition 2.0." And in a memo to "Republican leaders and conservatives" about Sotomayor that was published in the can't-miss beltway outlet Politico, Reed has served notice that he intends to re-occupy his old position as ideological enforcer on behalf of the Christian Right nationally. No more screwing around with state politics, it seems.
The memo itself is unremarkable. It cherry-picks polls to make the dubious claim that Latinos don't care about Sotomayor's fate. It restates the familiar if tired ideological case against Sotomayor as a Justice. But its real message is simple enough: Republican votes for Sotomayor will "discourage the GOP base" (as defined by an assortment of activist groups opposing the nomination) and give Obama a big win. And in case anyone misses Ralph's implicit threat on behalf of the "base," he calls the vote a "political Rorschach test" for Republicans--a fancier way of saying "litmus test."
While Ralph's memo is unlikely to change any votes, it will be most interesting to see if his fellow Republican insiders--or for that matter, his old allies in the Christian Right--take it seriously. By all rights, he should be hooted off the stage and shunted back to his Atlanta-based political consulting firm, though he doesn't seem to have any Georgia clients in the upcoming 2010 elections. But he gets high chutzpah points for reemerging on the scene as though the last four years or so never existed.