Thune supports earmark moratorium contrary to Red State report
A proposal for an earmark moratorium among GOP senators — backed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and opposed by Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) despite tea party pressure for the measure — has already touched a nerve among conservatives concerning a possible 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Wednesday afternoon, Red State’s Erick Erickson pronounced Sen. John Thune’s (R-S.D.) potential bid for the 2012 nomination as dead when sources informed him that Thune sided with McConnell on the proposal. Erickson wrote:
Thune is whipping votes for Mitch McConnell in order to defeat the Coburn-DeMint earmarks moratorium. There is no way Thune would so blatantly defy the grassroots of the GOP, the tea party movement, and virtually every major conservative group in Washington if he had any interest in being President in 2012.
However in an e-mail to TAI, Thune’s spokesman Kyle Downey refuted the Red State piece. “Senator Thune is not and has not been whipping against Senator DeMint’s earmark ban. Senator Thune has supported earmark moratoriums in the past and he continues to support an earmark moratorium,” Downey wrote.
Though Thune may avoid the ire of the Republican base in this instance, it does highlight a unique position for the senator from South Dakota that his potential primary opponents will be able to sidestep. Many of names bandied about as possible GOP nominees are figures such as Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich who have retired from their official political perches. Others such as Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels serve as the executive of their state governments. Both groups of Republicans can avoid taking part in the politically messy and widely unpopular process of legislating in the U.S. Congress.
Besides minor idle speculation of a DeMint campaign, Thune is the only Republican senator whose name is mentioned as a possible 2012 opponent for Barack Obama. Even on the House side, there is only a repeat long-shot bid from Ron Paul, or Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who recently resigned his leadership position partially to free up his time in order to run a campaign, but also likely to distance himself from the compromises the newly elected Republican majority will be forced to make.
Pence might be able to fade into the background of his chamber when difficult issues arise, but that option will not be as readily available for Thune in the Senate where each member can hold significant power on every issue. Thune’s positions have already threatened to hamstring a potential presidential bid. Few tea party activists are likely to support Thune after his vote to pass the TARP bill, even though many in the GOP field supported the legislation at the time and can avoid their past stance since they were not in a position to vote for the measure at the time.
Thune may sidestep the issue of earmarks, but over the course of the next year before presidential primaries begin, there is likely to be a number of votes before the Senate where he will be forced to decide between his more moderate leanings (than the tea party) and the ire of the Republican grassroots. As one tea party leader told TAI’s sister site The Washington Independent, “Our members will put immense pressure on every senator to vote against earmarks. This is a fundamental issue.”
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