According to Max Sawicky, and I think he’s right, the real story behind the filibuster compromise is that the Democrats have helped strengthen the power of the Republican moderates.
Broadly speaking, this deal looks to be more about leadership in the Senate than any relief from awful judicial nominations. Frist and the fundies want the Senate to go to straight majority rule on everything, so they can combine with the DeLay House leadership and go merrily ravaging the public sector and writing sharia law.
The shift is from White House stooge Frist, whose center of political gravity is Wingnuttia, to McCain. The centrists could be more instrumental in shepherding monumentally bad legislation and judicial nominations than the Fristies.
Kevin Drum thinks this is a bad strategy because it might actually save the Republican party, preventing them from digging their own grave by overreaching and alienating their base. I disagree. Kevin’s strategy reminds me of radical Marxists who wish to accelerate the demise of Capitalism because it will more quickly bring about the revolution. No matter how many people suffer as a result in the short term. Democrats need to stop the excesses of the Bush agenda, they need to do so now, and they need all the help they can get.
Mark Schmitt has come to a similar conclusion:
If the goal of liberals is to block a truly extremist Supreme Court nominee, block Social Security privatization and more tax cuts, block Bolton, and then begin to shift the debate back to issues of economic security, health care, global leadership, etc., the best possible thing that can happen is for the White House and its agents, such as Frist, to lose their control of all the levers of power in Congress. That’s indisputably what this deal does, and for that, I’ll learn to love it.
UPDATE: Jack Hitt says Trent Lot was a key player:
Fun added fact: The most cunning member of this moderate coalition was none other than Trent Lott. He was in the negotiations last week but managed to not be counted among the seven who stepped forward for the press conference. Maybe that was just to keep it all even—seven and seven. Anyway, Lott’s long been rumored to have his knives out for Frist since Rove engineered the Frist coup d’etat. A few days ago, Lott rudely told James Dobson to take a hike. (“Who does he think he is, questioning my conservative credentials?”) The schism between the small-government right with the religious wing is now public. Few underestimate Lott’s ability to count votes and to whip, when necessary. Now that Cheney and Rove are lame ducks, Frist has only the senate as a base of power. If Graham’s chirpy Republican centrism and Lott’s Machiavellian tactics are united against Frist, the deal might hold. Then Frist might well be back in scrubs, cutting out other people’s hearts (literally, this time) by next fall.