05/24/2005 10:35 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Score A Big One for the Republican Split

Since "this town" is consumed with keeping score, I won't disappoint. Today's victory doesn't belong to the Democrats, it belongs to the group of six - not seven (does Lindsay Graham get to be on every side of EVERY issue?)-- Republicans who led the deal on judges. It is a defeat for Leader Frist, but more important it is a defeat for Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and every other self righteous, religious bully who has tried to own the Congress, the White House and our lives.

Don't get me wrong. Making a deal to approve Pryor, Owens and Brown -- some of the most homophobic jurists ever nominated -- is heartbreaking. And even though they would have easily won an up or down vote to be confirmed, I hate it that Senators are so willing to deal my civil rights away. And the White House will probably be seen as a winner because they were ambivalent about the message the right wing was trying to send anyway.

But here is why I take some comfort.

The right wing has increasingly gotten involved in the "process" of the Congress not just the issues. They demand votes on schedule and they want to control Committee assignements and Chairmanships. I have written before about the emasculation of Arlen Spector (notice he wasn't one of the republican signatories?).

So when they demanded changing Senate Rules to gain leverage over nominations, they again weren't opining on a substantive issue or a person, they were using a bully pulpit energized by the recent election and Karl Rove, Bill Frist and Tom Delay's butt kissing.

These moderate Republicans have had a choice between fealty to the leadership and the leadership's friends or fealty to their own principles. It is surprising that it is a fight every time, but it is. And when the Republican caucus splits, progressives win. We've seen it over the past two years on the anti-gay constitutional amendment defining marriage, on the budget, and even most recently on social security.

That's the strategy for the Senate each and every time a tough vote on progressive issues comes up. If the Republicans can be divided, Democratic loyalty is not tested quite as often. Let's face it, we would have lost several of the Democrats who were in this deal on a vote on any individual judge. We can't count on Democratic unity (Too many Democratic Senators are still running scared). We can work to engage Republicans. Our dream is that they will get sick of their internal fighting and switch parties. Not likely - particularly since I don't think they get courted enough by Democrats in their own states. But when they challenge the radical right wing takeover of power, it means we can win some votes, not just score some points.