It looks like John Ensign (Philanderer–NV) is going to resign from the senate. In Nevada the governor appoints whomever he wants to an open senate seat, and reports say that Republican Brian Sandoval will appoint Republican Congressman Dean Heller.
Why is Ensign resigning? One possibility is that the ethics probes are getting really hot and he would face severe penalties if he remains in the Senate, so staying was an unappealing option. But here’s another possibility, compatible with the first–the Republicans in the Senate see an opportunity to prevent another Joe Miller, Christine O’Donnell or…yeah, Sharron Angle.
The Republicans who actually care less about ideological performance art and more about winning elections surely know that their chances of winning the Senate were wiped out by the primary wins of Miller, O’Donnell and Angle. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell certainly knows that Rand Paul beating his hand-picked candidate not only made it more difficult and expensive for the Republicans to hold on to their open seat in Kentucky, it also left him with a delegation partner who doesn’t trust him and who he can’t stand.
Republicans who care about winning elections know their biggest impediment to holding on to the House or winning the Senate is their primary electorates. If they push forward a bunch more tea party favorites, Republicans will under-perform in 2012, especially in the Senate where being a weirdo gets more exposure than it does in the lower-profile congressional races. So, if they knew Ensign was on his way out and having him out of the caucus might even be helpful to them, and they know they could end up with Sharron Angle as their candidate in 2012, the Senate Republican leadership may have cajoled or pushed Ensign to resign so they could install their favored candidate rather than end up with a certain loser.
It’s possible that Heller is nominated to the Senate, casts a vote here or there that draws the ire of the tea partiers, and still loses a primary. But now, at least, if he’s appointed to the Senate, it will at least be less likely that Angle or someone like her will end up the GOP nominee next year. Considering that Angle and her ilk could cost the Republicans a second solid shot of winning control of the Senate, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ensign’s resignation was at least in part a move to bypass the Republican primary electorate that has in recent years grown less and less tethered to reality and more inclined to nominate a lunatic over a viable candidate.