The first thing you have to understand is that nothing changes.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s move from Democrat to Independent has no practical effect. As Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out, “Kyrsten is independent. That’s how she’s always been.” And the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said that President Biden expected to “continue to work successfully” with Sinema.
That low key response from top Democrats makes sense because Sinema will continue to caucus with them, hold down her same committee assignments and be no more a thorn in their side than she would have been had she stayed in the party. It’s not even all that unusual. Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine are also Independents caucusing with Democrats. On the other side of the aisle, Alaska Independent Sen. Lisa Murkowski does the same with the Republicans.
So in Washington it’s just not that big a deal. But it is a smart move for Sinema back home. Arizona is a red state just starting to turn purple. Arizonans, like Wisconsinites, like to think of themselves as independents and mavericks. That’s why they loved John McCain. Let’s not forget that sane Democrat Katie Hobbs beat election denying Trump clone Kari Lake by all of 17,000 votes in the governor’s race there. (True to form, Lake hasn’t conceded and is following Trump’s playbook of lies.) Democrat Mark Kelly won his Senate race, but he hardly ran as a hard-left liberal. He called for stronger border security. And finally, Democrats need to remind themselves that Sinema was the first Democrat to win a Senate seat from Arizona in 30 years and that she replaced Republican Jeff Flake, himself a Republican with an independent streak.
Sinema infuriates the hard-left in her state and nationally (and I’m not necessarily a big fan myself), but what they fail to understand is that the choice is not between Sinema and some AOC clone, but rather between Sinema and a Republican.
She hasn’t said if she’s running again in two years, but Democrats should very much hope that she does. She probably has a better chance of winning as an Independent, and as I’ve pointed out above it really doesn’t matter what she calls herself when she gets back to Washington.