On the other hand, Republicans were wildly successful at the state level, gaining control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time since 1870. The economy continues to suffer, and Democratic governor Bev Purdue (another 2008 winner) is incredibly unpopular — she should be a promising takedown target for Republicans in 2012, even with Obama on the ticket. Interestingly, Burr wasn’t the only North Carolina senator to irritate his base over the weekend. Hagan joined Republicans in voting against the DREAM Act, a bill to that would create a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. It was a conspicuous nod to the state’s more conservative voters, who are the ones most likely to turn out in midterm years like 2014, when she is up for reelection. The liberal blog Daily Kos was not impressed.
As for Burr, he dismissed the idea that his vote for repeal was swayed by any particular constituency. “Hopefully we all think independently here and we listen. We don’t have to be lobbied or influenced,” he said. Of course, these are things that every politician says. He can certainly expect his fair share of “RINO!” accusations as a result of this vote, but with a lifetime rating of 91 percent from the American Conservative Union, they are unlikely to gain much traction. And unless Burr suddenly comes out in favor of Obamacare or higher taxes on cigarettes, the idea of a primary challenge from the right in 2016 seems implausible at best.
In a statement released by his office, Burr called the DADT policy “outdated” and its repeal “inevitable.” While the former assertion is certainly debatable, it’s hard to argue against the latter. As Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) told National Review Online, “[Repeal] was something people knew was going to happen.” And apart from John McCain (R., Ariz.), very few Republicans put up much of a fight. Corker said he wasn’t surprised by Burr’s vote and suggested that under different circumstances even more Republicans would have supported the bill. “You didn’t really see anybody in there talking about it much, right? It wasn’t impassioned at all,” he said.
Maybe Burr just wanted to be ahead of the curve. Maybe he simply knows how to read polling data. Or maybe he really meant what he said in his statement, that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” was “the right thing to do” — is that so hard to believe?
— Andrew Stiles is a 2010 Franklin fellow.