Political polarization may long ago have crossed over the event horizon—past the point of no return—yet, the Biden administration pivoted, nonetheless, to a more bipartisan tone after it became clear that the radical Left could not use backdoor tactics to go it alone in the 50–50 Senate.
Amid last week’s infrastructure negotiation fiasco, it seemed fitting that the DC Establishment was mourning the loss of one of its most illustrious—or notorious—stalwarts of a bygone era of centrist moderation.
Mercifully for his fellow Republicans, former Virginia Sen. John Warner, 94, died peacefully at his home in Arlington on May 25.
In addition to repeatedly backing his Democrat successor, Sen. Mark Warner (no relation), the elder Warner went on to make the following endorsements against his own party:
- Hillary Clinton (2016)
- Sen. Tim Kaine (2018)
- Rep. Abigail Spanberger and failed Democrat candidate Leslie Cockburn in their 2018 House races
- Joe Biden (2020)
AN INNOCENT START
My first encounter with then-Sen. Warner was in eighth grade. A couple of inspiring US history teachers had helped ignite my interest in the subject, and that had begun spilling over into politics.
In Virginia, Democrat Sen. Chuck Robb was defending his seat against a particularly strong threat, Lt. Col. Ollie North.
On a field trip to the state capital of Richmond, my class happened upon a press conference being given by Warner, who was stumping on behalf of independent candidate Marshall Coleman, a former state attorney general.
Coleman already carried the stigma of a lost 1989 gubernatorial election, in which he had delivered the state to Democrat Doug Wilder. (Despite being the first African–American governor elected anywhere in the US since the post-Civil-War era of Reconstruction, Wilder had failed to live up to that legacy, leaving in his wake a slew of ethical scandals, much like the Clintons.)
But, at the time, I knew only that Coleman was a moderate Republican, and that an endorsement from Warner—a Virginia political lion who had been wed to movie star Elizabeth Taylor—made him a formidable contender, regardless of the practical implications.
I already had decided I liked North; however, I was star-struck to be in the presence of two GOP luminaries, at the center of the action in a closely watched race. Although unable to vote at the time, I cherished my autographs of Warner and Coleman the way some kids did their prized baseball cards.
In the end, Coleman proved to be an election spoiler for North and vanished into obscurity. But as Republicans flipped six other Senate seats that year, things seemed to be no worse for the wear.
North, having rehabbed his former image as ringleader of the Reagan administration’s Iran–Contra scandal, went on to enjoy a respectable career as a conservative talk-show host and NRA president.
Robb was replaced the next election by former Gov. George Allen, a Republican who lasted only one Senate term before being made an early martyr of the Left’s race-baiting cancel-culture, courtesy of his misuse of the word m.
LEGACY OF DEFECTION
John Warner—whom I later had the opportunity to meet again, as a college newspaper reporter—capped off his 30-year Senate career by retiring in 2009 and voluntarily ceding his seat to Mark Warner.
In addition to backing his former campaign rival in the 2008 election, the Republican Warner would go on to endorse the incumbent Democrat—now the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee—in the latter’s 2014 and 2020 re-election campaigns.
In fact, since John Warner’s last re-election, in 2002, in Virginia has yet to elect another Republican senator.
The Old Dominion has now moved into the deep-blue category after mostly lily-livered Republicans rolled over repeatedly, effectively yielding control to corrupt leaders like ex-Clintonista Terry McAuliffe and reformed racist Ralph Northam.
Tellingly, the bipartisan overtures of the state’s most powerful GOP figure, John Warner, always seemed to break in favor of the Democrats.
His dubious Senate legacy included opposition to Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork—the first in Democrats’ ongoing series of resistance-driven smear campaigns that established a highly politicized judicial confirmation process.
Ironically, as part of the “Gang of 14,” Warner helped broker a 2005 agreement to block the then-55-member Republican majority in the Senate from exercising the so-called nuclear option against Democrat filibusters of judicial appointments by lowering the threshold to a simple majority.
A few years later, during the Obama era, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, deployed the nuclear option anyway after Republicans in the minority sought to play by the same rules established during the previous Bush administration.
HEROES TO THE OPPOSITION
At John Warner’s funeral last week, he was eulogized by his successor, Sen. Mark Warner, well as by Sen. Tim Kaine and President Joe Biden.
During a press conference the following day, the surviving Warner sang his friend’s praises yet again, extolling the virtues of bipartisanship after negotiations to pass a more than $1 trillion infrastructure package.
“My hope is that when this framework becomes law, that we do it in the spirit of John Warner,” he said, “and I hope to convince my colleagues that we actually name this legislation after him and we all commend it to his ability to work with people across party lines—the fact that he always put country first—and I think my colleagues have demonstrated that, yet again.”
But after lining up RINO senators—including Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio and Mitt Romney of Utah—for a shoulder-patting victory lap and photo op, President Biden soon flipped the script.
At the urging of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Biden declared that he would only sign the bipartisan infrastructure bill alongside its more radical companion piece, a massive “human infrastructure” bill to dramatically expand entitlement programs.
Biden later flip-flopped again to clarify that he did not intend a veto. But it’s easy to see where this shuck-and-jive is headed.
Once GOP members of this new bipartisan “gang” have bought into the bill and basked in the warm media afterglow for their ownership of it, what are the odds that they would walk away from a bad-faith counteroffer?
HOSTAGES TO MODERATION
While John Warner’s personal legacy may always be that of a dignified, gracious, statesmanlike Virginia squire, the massive spending boondoggle that is likely to bear his name will be a fitting symbol of his long-term political impact.
With Democrats pushing a radical agenda and using dirty tricks and gimmicks to achieve it, the only time right-leaning centrists truly put “country first” may be if there is a bus approaching and they are casting lots to see who gets thrown under it.
Still, many Republicans—or would-be Republicans—have naively bought into the same delusion as Warner, that it is a patriotic duty to engage their political counterparts, no matter what the starting bid or the extrinsic circumstances may be.
I can understand where, in a political vacuum, compromise might be the utmost virtue of a democratic system. But the vacuous decision to divorce one’s self from reality faster than Elizabeth Taylor did her husbands (Warner’s six-year marriage was the seventh of her eight nuptials, if you count Richard Burton twice) does not make that reality disappear.
Often, I have likened the comical audacity of Democrats’ demands—and subsequent Republican capitulation—to the famous “Peanuts” gag in which Lucy repeatedly yanks the football from underneath the hapless and quixotic Charlie Brown.
But in the grander scheme, it is all part of a hostage negotiation that the corrupt, anti-American Left has used to co-opt the honorable intentions of moderates who have too much integrity for their own good.
Sadly, democracy also has its own built-in self-destruct mechanism. And, in more than one way, Democrats now hold their quivering fingers on the trigger that could scuttle the entire institution of self-governance to gratify their fleeting, whimsidaisical priorities.
In such times as this, compromise simply isn’t an option.