Big Red

Is John Cornyn too conservative to get reelected to the U.S. Senate—or just conservative enough?

the economic impact. The farther away you get, the more people are concerned about security.” That didn’t seem to appease anyone. I left thinking that immigration is a dicey issue for an incumbent. Almost everyone can find something to dislike, and almost no one can find anything to like.

If he wins reelection in November, Cornyn can expect his second term to be very different from his first. A new president will occupy the White House, and Cornyn will no longer have to carry the Bush administration’s water. He will become the senior senator from Texas; Hutchison has said that she will not seek reelection and has hinted that she’ll resign her seat, possibly as early as 2009, to run for governor in 2010 (see Texas Monthly Talks). He will inherit the job of delivering federal largesse for Texas, a role he does not seem entirely comfortable playing. “I want to help Texas,” he told me, “but I’m very concerned about the growth of the federal government.” He talked about getting a seat on Finance or Appropriations, two of the most influential committees, and of moving up in the leadership. And, of course, he hopes to see his party take back the majority that it lost in 2006, unlikely as that is to occur. “I’d like to try to help Republicans regain our principles,” he said. “I think Republicans govern best when we are the party of reform. Power offers temptations that are hard to resist.”

How will he adapt to his new circumstances? The danger for him is that if he persists in the role he’s carved out for himself, as a lieutenant in the partisan wars, he may find himself excluded from the closed-door bipartisan meetings in which policy is hashed out. On the other hand, he could always go back to being the kind of politician he was in Texas—the kind who would have been welcome in those meetings. Perhaps he is keeping that option open. During our last conversation, in October, he acknowledged that being in the minority had given him a greater appreciation of Senate procedures that are designed to force compromises, such as the one he once labeled a “sellout.” “I’ve come to realize that we never want to resort to a nuclear option,” he told me. “Today’s majority is tomorrow’s minority. You can end up eating your own words.”

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