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Opinion

What the Devil won't tell you

Schrödinger's Sinema: Az's candy-coated senator exists in dual state because she knows what she's doing

I wanted to avoid a column on U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema until I had something to say that others are not saying.

I think I've got her cracked. The impossible senator from Arizona is playing with enough political nerve gas to kill her entire party as she remains mum on if she'll support President Joe Biden's $350 billion a year Build Back Better bill. 

Her refusal to engage the press or her constituents as to what she wants is pissing everyone off but Trump supporters.

And that's the point.

Sinema is Schrödinger's cat. The quantum theory goes like this: A cat is in a box with a vial of poison that has a 50-50 chance of being spilled and killing the cat. Or not killing it if it doesn't break. So the cat exists as both alive and dead until the box is open and we can see what happened.

Kyrsten Sinema exists as both a shrewd political operator who is going to save the Biden agenda at the last moment and as the senator who is — in cliched movie parlance — "so crazy she just might do it."

Is it too cute by half? Absolutely. Is it bad strategy? Absolutely not.

Look it's possible that she's actually trying to cram a My Dinner With Andre mind into a Hannah Montana avatar and take democracy with her into a oblivion.

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The fact that none of us know for sure is far more likely a goal and not a byproduct. Let's get real. She knows what she's gotta do.

The Two Kyrstens

I have two Kyrsten Sinema stories that pretty much sum her up. She hasn't just started this act of hers. 

The first time I met her in person, she was in Tucson for a press conference against a doomed ballot initiative that would have ended affirmative action in Arizona. 

I attended and so too did one of our metro columnists. We got there early. It was just us and her for about 15 minutes down by the old county courthouse.

We tried to dish, the way reporters do all the time. Just chit chat about this that or the other. The woman practically cracked her neck vertebrae to not acknowledge us or make eye contact. She was a lowly state representative at the time but she acted like she was on her fifth Oscar. 

We tried everything. We tried the weather in Phoenix. We tried the gossip at the Legislature. We tried “how about them Coyotes!” All we got were teenage eyerolls, sighs and teeth licking. Finally, exasperated, my columnist looked at Sinema’s feet and said “oh, I like those shoes.”

Bingo. Sinema wouldn't shut up about her foot wear.

But there's another Sinema. A few years later, I’m communications director over at the Pima County Democrats and we are all on a conference call with her. She is barking out orders about the messaging for 2010 (hint: It didn’t work). Everything was data driven based on poll numbers. Bedrock ideals were to be discarded and anathemas would be embraced because the poll numbers said so.

She was in charge. She wasn’t taking crap. Sinema was a cold, calculating political operator.

Somewhere between those two poles lies the success or failure of the American constitutional republic. She has positioned herself to hold the 50th vote or Biden's agenda, so she decides whether democracy works or not.

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She must make it work and she knows better than anyone. First, we have to endure the Sinema Show.

Progressives need to chill out

We live in the age of dazzle over decimal points. The style matters. Our whole culture is just one big WWE extravaganza. The biceps are real. The mullets are real. The fake tans are real. The sound is real. The fury and the punches are fake.

So Sinema knows that so long as she talks the trash, flexes her power, taunts her base and – just as important – so long as her base openly acts like it hates her, she’s free to cast the vote that’s required.

See, Sinema’s gotta prioritize. She can protect the filibuster to aid and abet the GOP attack on electoral remedy to maintain white supremacy. She can oppose the minimum wage and strike it down with a taunting flirty flourish. She flashed a “f--- off” to her supporters upset about it. She can do all this and survive a Democratic Primary if and only if she doesn’t destroy the party and president’s agenda.

If she doesn’t vote for some version of the reconciliation bill, she is going to have to end the filibuster. She can't solely run on how she finally made good on the failed promise of Trump's "Infrastructure Week." 

Never has a senator  – I don’t care how mavericky – blown up the entirety of her party’s agenda just to prove she can. Not once, not ever, not in history.

She knows this. And she knows the show she's putting on is what independents will remember. She's not going to tank the bill.

That’s why she’s meeting with the Biden administration so much. She’s going to get a deal done. Then she can go to progressives and say “I brought Joe Manchin up from $1.5 trillion” then go to her corporate donors and say “I cut the Build Back Better plan almost in half.”

By the way, a $2 trillion dollar increase in domestic spending over 10 years is a hell of a get. It’s not everything in one swoop but c’mon progressives. It’s more than a party with barely a majority in either congressional chamber should hope to deliver.

You want more? Her partner in hesitancy, West Viginia's Joe Manchin, is right. Elect more liberals. Political movements don't get everything they will want for the next 40 years in one bill. Democracy isn't a case of "we elected you so we never have to vote again."

It would end her 

Sinema's a survivor and a climber. She's too savvy to commit murder-suicide on her own political party.

She would face a $100 million dollar primary opponent funded by small-dollar donors. However much she raises from corporate donors, it won’t be enough. She'll be in a Democratic primary running how she wrecked everything the party wanted for reasons she won't explain.

She'll have decided to kill for killing sake.

That’s not the best bumper sticker: Sinema: Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego would rout her.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (if she fails to win the governorship but runs strong) would leave her looking like one of Mike Tyson's mid-1980s challengers.

And there's no way she would win a general election with the base hating her.

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The national political observer class is looking at Arizona as only the Valley of the Sun. Democrats are starting to win in Arizona, but they are doing it by a whisker. The buzzer-beater only matters because of all the other shots that fell through the hoop.

Yes, Sinema won because of Maricopa County swinging left. But look at the numbers in 2018 versus 2016. She stacked that margin on top of Pima and Coconino county surging with new voters. How many new voters? About 56,000. How much did Sinema win by? About 56,000.

Those voters aren’t likely disaffected Republicans worried their party had become gauche. They are almost certainly millennials, Gen Z voters and people of color who voted for the first time to get a progressive in the Senate.

Sinema is only a senator because she won new progressives and Maricopa County Republicans turned off by Donald Trump.

If you, gentle reader, don't think she's been all over her numbers down to the street level, you are crazier than you think she is.

Her possible weird thoughts

If she thinks she can win a Republican primary, she’s had a complete mental break. Sinema really hasn’t stood for anything other than her candy-coated maverickism. She opposed the Trump tax cuts and she opposes repealing them. That’s her schtick.

She did vote for – twice now – removing an impeached Trump from office. She’s also got a 100 percent score from abortion rights group "NARAL." No way do Republicans vote for a “limousine liberal, who’s pro-choice and anti-Trump.”

If she reverses herself on those issues it would be a political contortion that would make Rodney Glassman’s neck break.

The independent route isn't an option because Arizona doesn't elect independents. Her rhetoric and displays of disgust with progressives position her only to win Republicans who want an oligarchy, but one that dresses better and doesn’t use that kind of language around the kids.

That's like 18 voters in Scottsdale and four on the Arizona Republic Editorial Board.

The implacability is the point

She's acting like she needs to exist right now as a pastel princess playing coy about which servant she wants beheaded or which pretty pony she most favors. That's because she's simultaneously a shrewd operator and has not — boy we should hope — had a complete psychotic episode.

The implacability is the point because it gives her the cover. Saturday Night Live is doing skits about her. Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers have graduated from Sinema "bits" to Sinema "chunks" in their monologues.

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Progressives are following her into rest rooms and she's ignoring constituents when they are a foot away asking questions. 

That's awesome for her. She has successfully become a cultural fixture as the woman willing to bring down her party if it doesn’t play by their rules. So she doesn't have to bring down her party. Plus, she gets to define those rules ex post facto once she’s voted for Biden’s agenda. 

Independent voters will reward the razzle-dazzle and the base will likely accept her antics as she delivers the meat and potatoes.

We better hope so, otherwise Arizona's senior senator and one percent of America's nation war-making authority is in the hands of a crazy woman. I mean, her goal can't be bringing back Trump's white nationalism after proving Democrats can't govern, can it?

If so someone needs to explain to her that fascism and fashion are two different things.The Third Reich didn't follow the second season of Project Runway.

So just chill out. She knows that ... right?

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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U.S. Kyrsten Sinema ignores a voter on a flight from Phoenix to Washington. She's too smart to vote like how she is acting ... right?

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