WASHINGTON — Several high-profile Republican defections on the Iraq war policy may rankle some of the party's conservatives, but such moves are considered critical for moderate Republicans facing re-election in 2008.
"You don't want to force your fellow partisans to walk the plank," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor and author of "The New Politics of the Old South." "Convincing moderates to vote against a timetable, and then that becomes an issue that trips them up in `08, means you've lost seats. With the president being so unpopular, those from moderate-leaning areas might need to be able to say, `Well, I voted against the president on the Iraq war.'"
The Republican departures have included Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee; John Warner of Virginia, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the moderate-leaning Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. The White House has urged Republican lawmakers to wait until Gen. David Petreaus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, gives a report on the war's progress in September before voting on any major policy changes.
While most Republican leaders have agreed to do this, they've also acknowledged that congressional and public patience for the war effort is growing thin.
"There's just so many bullets for a lame-duck president - especially an unpopular one - that (Republican leaders) can be expected to take," said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst and managing editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
Still, some Republican leaders, such as Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, see the party defections on the war policy as political maneuvering at a time when the focus should be on the troops.
"Olympia Snowe does not surprise me at all. Dick Lugar I would have suspected better of," Bunning told reporters earlier this week. "Pete Domenici is running for reelection in 2008, and he's been posturing himself for the past month to switch his position on the war."