Why Confirmations are Different

There were an awful lot of A-rated Democrats and Republicans who voted to confirm Eric Holder, and there’s some suggestion that this bodes ill for coming fights on anti-gun legislation that’s likely to appear in this Congress.  The current political climate is certainly not good for us, and one thing is for certain — if President Obama and the anti-gun forces in Congress commit themselves to rolling us in the 111th Congress, they likely have the votes to do so.  But the odds on defeating anti-gun legislation are higher than they are for a confirmation because the political dynamics are different.  Here are some of the factors that are present in a confirmation vote.

One, whether it’s right or wrong, there is a sense that a President should be able to choose his cabinet, and unless there’s some issue of qualification or gross malfeasance, the President should get his man (or woman).

Two, If the President and Senate are of the same party, there’s an expectation among party leadership that they will deliver their President his nominees.  Party leadership will tend to be sensitive toward a member’s situation in his own state when it comes to legislation, and will often give the nod to vote against legislation the leadership wants, because it puts him at risk in his home state.  There are times when that’s not the case, but a party that wants to stay in power will typically not ask a member to vote their way on too many issues that will put his seat in danger.  That dynamic is not typically present with confirmation votes, so consequences are more serious for bucking the leadership, and the White House, which is why no Democrats were willing to do it.

Conformations are one of those areas where far-reaching political ignorance comes into play.  The vast majority of voters, including most gun owners, don’t pay attention to confirmations.  NRA’s cover story on Holder didn’t hit people’s mailboxes until a few weeks before the Senate confirmed him.  It’s hard to hold politicians accountable when most people aren’t paying close attention to what they are doing at great detail.  This differs from legislation, where we’ve had a long time to educate gun owners on what could come down the pike.  Most everyone, by now, knows the consequences of a new assault weapons ban.

Those who say if we held these A-rated Senators feet to the fire, we could have defeated Holder, I think give NRA too much credit.  A thirty vote deficit on a confirmation is beyond NRA’s power to influence.  If they had twisted arms, and counted it as a “key vote”, that might have gotten maybe a dozen lawmakers to switch sides, at great cost to NRA.  You only get so many “key votes” in every legislative session, because you only get one shot every two years, or six years for Senators, to demonstrate your organizations electoral muscle.  In short, you only get a few chances to screw with a politicians grade, and if you do that, you better be able to unseat him, or he will be forever lost as an ally.

Any strategy that proposes to count every vote, with no regard to the cost and relative imporance compared to other threats, overestimates our influence, and is the fast train into the political wilderness.  We are an important interest group, but we do not rule Washington D.C.  If we had 20 million Americans who were willing to vote like gun owners — if we had a quarter as many pro-gun activists, we could probably do it.  But we don’t have that.  Not even close.  So we don’t have the luxury of spending ourselves on hopeless battles this early into Obama’s Administration.  Eric Hodler’s confirmation as Attorney General is not, by any means, good news for gun owners, but we did not have it together enough to defeat Obama, and nor did we to defeat Holder.  Gun owners are in the weakest political position we’ve been in for 15 years.  We only have the resources for a few fights this Congress, and we had better spend them wisely.

5 thoughts on “Why Confirmations are Different”

  1. No war was ever won by sending the entire force after every single skirmish. In fact, that is a pretty good way to lose morale and lives when your simple tricks are figured out.

  2. “One, whether it’s right or wrong, there is a sense that a President should be able to choose his cabinet, and unless there’s some issue of qualification or gross malfeasance, the President should get his man (or woman).”

    No, this is a sense only conservatives hold. The Left does not hold to this. And repeatedly trounced Bush appointees, often for the mere fact of being conservative.

    Because liberals believe being conservative is wrong and makes one ineligible.

    That’s what makes me so upset at our present party system. And I think Conservatives often take the high road.


    Everything else I pretty much agree on. The NRA has biggest fish to worry about, and spending all their ammo to try to kill a nomination would have been bad strategy.

    The NRA has to take the “don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes” approach in a lot of ways. They need to make sure they have enough ammo to push the legislators on key legislation.

    Sadly, too often they get demonized for not doing enough or making a compromise. But most people don’t understand strategy. They don’t understand how retreating and losing a battle can actually win you the war.

    That said, if we had far more numbers and them more vocal, then the NRA would have been able to say “don’t vote for this guy”.

    The NRA is merely an “echo” of us….

  3. I agree with our first point, largely, NUGUN. Republicans have been far too congenial with their Democratic colleagues on confirmations, and this is going to be particularly important when it comes to judicial nominees. I fear the Democrats with no Republican filibuster if a Supreme Court vacancy comes up, and we still have a lot of federal judgeship that were never filled under Bush because the Dems wouldn’t give them a hearing.

  4. Excellent analysis, Sebastian.

    We may be in a weak position politically, but we have resources now that we never had years ago. We have a network of vocal individuals. We can organize at a moments notice. It’s not everything, but it is a start.

  5. I am optimistic, George, that we may come through this with fairly minimal and reversible damage. One reason that Pelosi and Reid may be reluctant to bring gun control bills to the floor is because they are concerned about putting members in a difficult position.

    Much will depend on how much Obama wants to stake on pushing gun control. Much will also depend on what tragedies can be inevitably exploited. There are a lot of unknowns.

    Based on rhetoric so far, I’m not convinced gun control is the hill this administration wants to die on. Clinton pissed away a lot of the progressive agenda on it, and I think Obama would rather deal economic conservatism a death blow first, then deal with us later.

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