By Frank Blechman
Virginia, despite its radical history (birthplace of African slavery in the British colonies, hotbed of revolution against the mother country, capital of the confederacy, and home of “massive resistance” to racial integration of schools) likes to present itself as a place of genteel refinement and moderation.
Throughout his political career, former governor and now Senator Mark Warner has made a religion of moderation, claiming to be a “radical centrist.” In Washington, he takes pride in being part of the gang (of 7, 9, or whatever) assembled to avert a crisis by cutting a last-minute deal. It didn’t matter if the centrists actually accomplished much. The center was the place to be.
The center was the place to be. WAS the place to be. As reformers topple established members of Congress, calls for political and social reform fill the streets, and monuments to the lost cause go into retirement, is it STILL the place to be?
WAS the place to be. As reformers topple established members of Congress, calls for political and social reform fill the streets, and monuments to the lost cause go into retirement, is it STILL the place to be?
Mark Warner is helped in his Senate reelection battle this year by two factors:
- First, moderate Joe Biden is at the top of the ticket. And Virginia is rated safely in his camp. So, there will be no pressure from above to take positions he doesn’t like.
- Second, his opponent, Daniel Glade, is not bidding for a spot in the center (instead running far right), leaving the middle ground clear for Warner.
The political prognosticators all think Warner is in a safe spot. The Cook Political Report and Virginia’s own Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball both rate the Virginia Senate seat as a ‘no contest.’
In the short run, these factors allow Mark Warner to continue to appear on TV looking serious while counseling “wait and see.” In the short tun, that is probably a smart place to be.
Yet that stance might limit his ability to lead in a future Congress. If he wins reelection, when he returns in January he will be one of the senior members of the Senate. If Democrats hold a majority there, he will be in line to chair a major committee. He is now the ranking member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, but he could choose to play a bigger role instead in banking, commerce, or tax policy, areas in which he considers himself knowledgeable and in which there will be significant action with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House.
In the long run, can Mark Warner lead from his imagined “center”? . . . In the longer run, I believe that Mark Warner will have to climb out of his bunker, declare priorities, propose solutions, and get problems resolved. . . . Our senior senator stands not only on the brink of reelection, but on the verge of leadership.
In the long run, can Mark Warner lead from his imagined “center”? The likely majority leader, Chuck Schumer, will not want to be there; he’ll want to be at the front of a progressive parade. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will almost certainly be challenged from the left for leadership. We have all seen that savvy and skillful as she is, she has had to move leftward this term to keep her troops in line.
In the longer run, I believe that Mark Warner will have to climb out of his bunker, declare priorities, propose solutions, and get problems resolved. As governor, he was willing to propose things, but not very effective in lining up votes, luring votes, or keeping legislators in line. As a member of the minority for most of his congressional career, if he has done these things, he has not had to do them publicly.
In short, our senior senator stands not only on the brink of reelection, but on the verge of leadership. I am sure he won’t embarrass us, but I can’t be certain that he will make us proud.
I believe that we are entering a period in which voters will more strongly demand results. The voters have heard the promises from both major parties, and have tagged along, hoping for the best. But that era is ending. Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly have recognized this and are rushing to deliver change as fast as they can (beginning again tomorrow). In theory, a thesis and its anti-thesis generate a synthesis. That may be true, but not yet.
The tests and challenges of the next few years will be interesting for Mark Warner, possibly forcing him to play roles and take stands that do not come naturally to him. I believe that he is capable of making the adjustments, but so far, I see few signs that he is preparing to do so.