Thursday, September 22, 2011

Senate Leadership? Why?

The news broke yesterday that Lamar Alexander, Senator from Tennessee and formerly a gimmick-intense and therefore highly amusing presidential candidate, is voluntarily giving up his position in the Senate Republican leadership; he was the #3 guy behind Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl.

Politico's story sort of hints at what his true motivations might have been...[he's up for re-election]* his seat is up in 2014 and he's planning to run again and so being in leadership might have been a distraction, or perhaps he was concerned that he would be defeated if he tried to move up into Kyl's Whip Post, but also challenged by someone if he tried to stay put. And there's some stuff about him wanting to be open to bipartisanship in a way he couldn't be in leadership.

But I think the real story here is probably just that there's very little advantage to being in party leadership in the Senate. It is true that party polarization has increased in the Senate as it has elsewhere, but that hasn't really meant that party leaders are particularly powerful; in the Senate as always, it's individual Senators who matter. Formal position, whether it's in the leadership or on a committee, matters...but just not all that much. Obviously the status or the influence or whatever is enough that the jobs don't go unfilled, but they just aren't remotely similar to House party leadership.

*Corrected; I had this wrong originally. He's up in 2014.


  1. Now that thine is out of the Pres race what do you think his long term goal is? Majority leader?

  2. Thune not thine, sorry

  3. I wonder how much the difference has to do with how knowledgeable the individual members must be? In the Senate, members serve on a number of high-profile committees, so they must be familiar with a wide-range of issues. This causes members to have stronger opinions about many different things, making it more difficult for the leadership to twist arms.

    In the House, on the other hand, each member only serves on a small number of committees, and only one major committee. It might be hard to convince a newbie or backbencher on the Financial Services to vote a certain way on banking reform, but it might be easier to sway his vote on energy policy, for example.

    I suppose the adage might be right: Serving in the Senate leadership is like herding cats: They're smart and independent. In the House, it's like herding dogs: dumber and more likely to go with the pack.

    Folks in the Senate leadership can become quite influential (if not powerful), though. I expect Schumer may someday approach Mansfield and LBJ in his influence as Majority Leader.

  4. Anon,

    Thune is 50, and has already admitted to presidential ambitions. I don't see any reason to believe that he has any other main long-term goal.

    Which may not mean he'll ever actually run or anything, but if Obama wins I'd be surprised if you don't see his name again for 2016 -- and he could still be a contender in 2024, for all we know.

  5. Lamar Alexander quit the same day that the Senate leadership sent their letter to the Fed. I think it is reasonable to assume that the two events are related.


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