It’s Time for Murkowski to Leave the Dark Side and Join the Dems

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Susan Walsh/AP/Bloomberg/Getty
Susan Walsh/AP/Bloomberg/Getty

When I grow up, I’d like to be Lisa Murkowski. In the meantime, could the Democratic Party adopt her?

She needs a new home. Over the weekend, the three-term senator was disinherited by her GOP family in Alaska. The state Republican party voted 58-17 to support a primary challenge by Kelly Tshibaka, a middling, right-wing, pray-away-the-gay former state official who Donald Trump calls “MAGA all the way.”

If he hasn’t already, Chuck Schumer should be racing off to offer Murkowski, who’s already considered leaving the GOP, shelter in place. Don’t be too proud to beg, or bribe. Promise her a good seat on the most important committee. Pledge to make her race a top priority. Ask Barack Obama to invite her for dinner.

That’s how party switches are done: carrots dangled, spinach held, with promises of a second marriage so happy she will wonder why she stayed so long in the first. In recent years, Senators Richard Shelby, Joe Lieberman, Jim Jeffords, and Arlen Specter have crossed over. Ronald Reagan began as a Hollywood Democrat and union leader who worshipped FDR. He switched to the GOP in 1962 and the rest is history.

The Squishy Sadness of the Last Moderate Republicans

It’s not her father’s party Murkowski belongs to. Frank Murkoswki, now 88, served two terms in the U.S. Senate, and one as governor from 2002 to 2006. He appointed his daughter to fill out his term. Frank was conservative but not conservative enough. Voting against gays in the military wasn’t enough to counter his support for gay rights. The governor was primaried in 2006 by, drum roll, Sarah Palin, who took his place in the statehouse from which she could see Russia and catch the eye of John McCain.

Now it’s not that Lisa Murkowski isn’t conservative enough, it’s that she isn’t Trump enough. Crossing the aisle would solve problems for her and Democrats. She’s already friends with many, including Joe Manchin. The party could afford to lose his vote if it gains her. A workhorse not a show horse, she’s close to members of the bipartisan women’s supper club who cross party lines all the time. Sen. Amy Klobuchar doesn’t agree with Murkowski on everything but on vacation in the Land of the Midnight Sun, her family went to see Murkowski’s. The Republican votes Murkowski will lose for speaking up against Trump she will get from Democrats for being brave enough to do so.

Unlike Palin, Murkowski doesn’t dress moose, or sheathe herself in waders to catch salmon for the cameras, but she can do what has to be done. When Palin, at the height of her superpowers, struck again in 2010, she backed Tea Party candidate Joe Miller in a primary against the younger Murkowski. Murkowski lost but quickly did what no one had since Strom Thurmond in 1954 and launched a long-shot write-in candidacy. She won and then won again in 2016 with Trump at the top of the ballot.

Trump turned into a more formidable enemy than Palin, who up and resigned 18 months before her term was up amid questions about her political ethics. He’s been out to get Murkowski since he discovered she had a conscience and wasn’t afraid to exercise it, unlike Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, who talks a good game but then votes for Brett Kavanaugh. Murkowski took the hit for her “no” vote on Kavanaugh but Trump didn’t vow to defeat her until former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis chastised Trump for dividing the country and Murkowski called his words “true and honest and necessary and overdue.” Trump remained afraid of Mattis, so took his fury out on Murkowski. “Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now,” Trump tweeted, “but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!”

We can confirm Tshibaka, a former administrator in Juneau, has a pulse. It’s also true that Trump couldn’t envision that in two years he’d be an itinerant preacher, bunking in two different country clubs, in between stops on a revenge tour. Murkowski is still a senator and Trump is renting parking lots for rallies designed to hurt those who’ve stood up to him. Last month, he held a rally in Lorain, Ohio, home to Rep. Anthony Gonzales—young, the son of Cuban immigrants, and a former NFL player who, prior to voting to impeach Trump, had been a favorite of the then-president who had once been invited on Air Force One. Trump is pushing a primary challenge to Gonzales by Max Miller, a guy with multiple arrests who moved to the district only recently, and has no relevant experience unless you count advancing some White House trips.

How To Switch Parties

Murkowski had high-placed company for a brief moment sharing her fear that Trump was a threat to the country. With the shock of violence fresh and amid statements from corporations they would withhold donations, Mitch McConnell warned of a “death spiral” for democracy that might merit impeachment. Kevin McCarthy allowed that Trump bore “some responsibility” for the insurrection and lapdog Lindsey Graham said Trump should “count [him] out.” But they all quickly piled back into the sad-clown car after polls showed nothing, not even Trump continuing to praise his supporters who beat and bloodied the police, could peel away his MAGA cult. McConnell suspected, rightly, that corporate CEOs like those of Toyota, Cigna, and Boeing would—more quietly than when they left—return to the fold with their wallets open.

Murkowski is the only one of the seven Republicans who voted for impeachment to be up for re-election in 2022. In Washington, she hasn’t been as publicly cast out as Liz Cheney has, but if this were high school, she’d be eating her cold cuts at the weekly caucus lunch alone. Mitch McConnell doesn’t support primaries against his members but neither does he go against Trump. The same for Sen. Rick Scott, the head of the Senate’s fundraising arm who decides who gets what financial support. He doesn’t answer reporters’ questions about incumbents Trump is out to kill.

Alaska has just moved to an open ranked-choice primary in which candidates appear on one ballot and the top four advance to the general. In normal times, that would make party ID less important but these aren’t normal times and there is no national party. There is only Trump.

About her vote, Murkowski wrote that she saw many “brave men and women fulfill their oath” that day but “Donald Trump was not one of them.” She continued. “If… organizing a rally of supporters in an effort to thwart the work of Congress, encouraging a crowd to march on the Capitol, and then taking no meaningful action to stop the violence… is not worthy of impeachment, I cannot imagine what is.”

So many of her fellow Republicans could. Later Murkowski asked: “If the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me."

Schumer and his caucus and so many others have an answer to your question: No, they’re just not that into you anymore. It’s no longer your party or your dad’s—it’s Trump’s. You could actually win, proving it’s still possible for one person who’s right to go against millions who’ve been led wrong. Leave the dark side. It’s the true and necessary and overdue thing to do.

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