What does the future hold for Kyrsten Sinema? The Arizona senator, who’s best described as a dull person’s idea of an interesting person, famously flounced from the Democratic Party last December. While she’s remained a part of the Democratic caucus since then, she’s now seeking reelection outside of its auspices and against a more institution-minded member of her former party, in the form of Representative Ruben Gallego—who’s not been subtle about his antipathy for the incumbent. So for the first time in a long while, Sinema’s been forced to consider the possibility that her time in Washington may be coming to an end.
But if remarks attributed to her in a new book by McKay Coppins are any guide, she seems sanguine about her future and determined to go out with her trademark delusions of grandeur. As Insider reported this week, Sinema makes a cameo in Coppins’s Romney: A Reckoning, in which she’s totally not mad about her dim reelection prospects. “I don’t care. I can go on any board I want to. I can be a college president. I can do anything,” she apparently told Mitt Romney. “I saved the Senate filibuster by myself. I saved the Senate by myself. That’s good enough for me.” She is, sadly, correct about her chances of cashing out. But the idea that she “saved the Senate” raises a rather obvious question: “From what, though—and for who?”
Beyond the fact that Sinema’s claim to have been the sole savior of the filibuster is significant Joe Manchin erasure, depriving the West Virginia senator of the recognition he’s earned for hurting West Virginians, children, and the planet, she’s incorrect on the merits: You can’t simultaneously be a Senate institutionalist and support the filibuster, which is a parliamentary aberration that flies in the face of the Framers’ designs. The fact that so many have come to think of it as some sort of legitimate Senate tradition is the constitutional equivalent of the Mandela effect, where people end up convinced that their false memories, such as the famously incorrect collective belief that Sinbad starred in a movie called Shazam!, are real.
As The New Republic’s Matt Ford has explained on multiple occasions, Sinema distinguished herself in one way regarding the filibuster: for her willingness to provide a continual stream of ahistorical and utterly gobshitted rationales for why supermajority rule in the Senate actually serves some noble purpose. But chief among Ford’s observations was that the filibuster almost exclusively impedes the Democratic Party from governing: “For Democrats to achieve any of their policy priorities … they have to navigate a 60-vote gauntlet and the assent of 10 GOP senators. Republicans, on the other hand, can cut taxes, slash the federal budget, and stuff the courts with right-wing judges with a simple majority.”
There’s the answer to the question of who she saved the filibuster for. As for the matter of what she accomplished by doing so … well, there we find more disrepute. Among Sinema’s more vaunted accomplishments is her role in blocking Democrats from passing a measure to shore up voting rights during a time when Democratic voters were facing a well-funded, nationwide effort by Republicans to deny them the ability to participate in our democracy. As Ford pointed out, her rationale in this instance was wholly illogical from the standpoint of self-preservation: “Sinema’s refusal to let her party wield its majority power may, ironically, hasten the end of that power—including her own as a senator who’s up for reelection in 2024. Who knows how many of her voters will be disenfranchised by then?”
Sinema cannot lay claim to having been left behind by a party that moved to a radical new place, either, given that the intensity of her opposition to the Democratic Party’s designs hit a fever pitch once a dyed-in-the-wool centrist took charge of the White House. Even as Biden brokered truces with progressive lawmakers, Sinema broke away, taking a leading role in helping to water down the Build Back Better Act. Worse still was her hand in helping to kill off the pandemic-era expanded child tax credit, where her steadfast opposition to taxing corporations and the wealthy cut off the one funding mechanism that Manchin was willing to countenance to keep it running.
A Sinema aide has disputed the accuracy of the remarks attributed to her in Coppins’s book, but the fact that she comes across as being self-aware about becoming a fully vested sellout who’s now eligible to level up her buckraking game completely tracks, seeing as she spent the twilight of her Senate career denying children a fraction of the largesse that the country’s plutocrats have carted off for themselves. Her evolution, famously characterized by the Associated Press’s Brian Slodysko as from “Prada socialist to corporate donor magnet,” has long been on full display, as has her comical antipathy to actually communicating with her constituents.
With all that in mind, no one should really be surprised if the Arizona voters who put her in power come out next year to kick her to the curb. In the end, Sinema’s career in Washington was hampered by the fact that she was stuck having to represent the Grand Canyon State in the Senate, instead of just being what she clearly wanted to be: the personal valet to hedge funders and the private equity industry on Capitol Hill. May the voters now send her on her way to serving these masters.
This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.