How Jeffords saved the GOP

James Joyner, in the course of noting Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT) coming retirement from the Senate, says: “I have nothing but contempt for the slimeball Jeffords.” This seems to be the typical Republican view of the guy, who abandoned the GOP in 2001 to give Democrats control of the Senate. Fair enough—and plenty of Democrats have cast scorn on Zell Miller for similar turncoat-ism—but it’s also worth noting that Jeffords essentially saved the floundering Bush presidency back in 2001.

Really? Really! Jeffords, recall, first told the president about his planned defection in late May 2001, right as the initial tax cut bill was wending its way through the Senate. Had Jeffords defected immediately, Democrats would have taken control of the chamber before the tax cut passed, and control of the legislative agenda would’ve passed to new Majority Leader Tom Daschle. On the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT) would’ve replaced Chuck Grassley (R-IA) as chairman, and the White House would have been unable to pass a tax cut of its own design and choosing. The president’s first major initiative would’ve faltered, and the then-unpopular president would have become an instant lame duck.

But Jeffords promised the president to defect only after the tax cut was passed—he even voted for the bill—and the White House came out victorious. So sure, call him a “slimeball” if you must, but if Jeffords had really wanted to stick his knife in the president’s back, he could’ve done far, far worse.