Well, you can’t say we didn’t warn you. When Senator John Warner took to the Rotunda steps of his alma mater last Friday and announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, we were about as surprised as Will Ferrell at the MTV Movie Awards. (Because, you know, he always gets one. And they notify the winners in advance. It’s funny, see?) Anyway, it wasn’t just Warner’s nearly comatose fundraising ($71,914 at last count, if you’re keeping track) that tipped us off, or the fact that Representative Tom Davis has already done everything short of buzzing Scott Stadium in a biplane trailing a "Davis for Senate" banner. No, it’s the way that our ornery-but-lovable senior senator from Virginia has spent the last few months gleefully burning bridges all over D.C. like General Sherman hightailing it out of Atlanta.
Of course, Warner has always been willing to stir things up a bit, politically speaking—but lately is seems like he’s been more full of piss and vinegar than a Chinese salad dressing factory. Just take his recent dust-up with the Bush White House over the possibility of reducing the number of troops in Iraq. Following a fact-finding mission to Iraq—and a (almost certainly) contentious two-hour meeting with current Iraq commander David Petraeus—Warner took to the podium with the kind of gruff certainty that only an 80-year-old WWII vet can muster.
The events at Norris Hall on April 16 continue to reverberate around the country. A state panel’s report has hard criticism of both Virginia Tech and the state.
"The Iraqi government under the leadership of Prime Minister Maliki has let our troops down," he began, on what would turn out to be the cheerful, uplifting part of his presentation. He went on to let President Bush know, in no uncertain terms, that as commander in chief he should send a "sharp and clear message" to the Iraqi government by informing them that, "in consultation with our senior military commanders, he’s decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of our forces."
"I say to the President, respectfully, pick whatever number you wish," Warner offered, gracious to a fault. "Five thousand could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year."
Needless to say, this unsolicited piece of tactical advice was greeted by the Bush White House like a flaming bag of dog feces left on the front portico. But here’s the genius part: Not only did Warner refuse to back down, he totally messed with Bush’s head by allowing members of his staff to converse with certain "White House officials," and inform them (according to a recent Associated Press article) that Warner’s "views were being portrayed incorrectly as splitting with the president."
Predictably, when the AP came a-callin’ to seek the requested clarification, Iron John slapped this unnamed "official" upside the head so hard, you could hear the hollow coconut thwok at the top of the Washington Monument.
"I’m not going to issue any clarification," he said, and you could almost see the disdain dripping down the page and smearing the newsprint below. "I don’t think any clarification is needed."
So, the Associated Press was bold enough to ask: Does this mean you’ve split with Bush on Iraq?
"You have to surmise that on your own."
Now, it doesn’t take a great political prognosticator to realize that these are not the words and actions of a man gearing up for another six years in the Senate. No, these were obviously the from-the-gut reactions of a man who’s been playing the game so long, he’s lost all tolerance for the amateurs and mere mountebanks who are currently running the show.
And yes, we’re sad to see him go—love him or loathe him, it’s undeniable that John Warner embodies a type of thoughtful, pragmatic and dignified politician that is in precious short supply on Capital Hill these days. But on the bright side, we’re happy to see the old warhorse going out at the top of his game, and throwing some strong elbows on his way out the door. And we’re even happier that we now have the Mark Warner/Tom Davis/Jim Gilmore/George Allen senate-race soap opera to write about for the next 14 months.
Thanks, John—we knew we could count on you.