Dianne Feinstein has risen from the ashes before. She did it almost literally when she ascended from the ranks of San Francisco city supervisor after Mayor George Moscone was assassinated in 1978, taking over as mayor and joining Jerry Brown as one of California’s two most durable politicians of the last 50 years.
Now she may have figuratively assassinated herself, her nature as peacemaker and friend to all types of people putting her in a Shakespearean dilemma: Should she retire from her post as California’s senior US senator or try again for reelection to a sixth full term in 2024 at age 91?
Feinstein’s always conciliatory approach led her to hug South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham at the end of Senate committee hearings on ex-President Donald Trump’s nomination of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court.
Feinstein not only embraced her longtime friend but told him “This was one of the best sets of hearings I’ve participated in.” This infuriated other Democrats, who demanded she give up her spot as the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and forfeit the chance to be its chair after Democrats took control of the Senate in late January.
Feinstein, 87, went along with that, despite the fact many left-wing Democrats demanded she also resign and let Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom replace her. But she bristled when some Democrats questioned her mental capacity.
Feinstein compounded her problems a few weeks later, describing as “important” the futile, falsehood-laden crusade led by Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas to have Congress overturn last fall’s election results from four closely-contested states.
You bet that was important, other Democrats soon chimed in: It helped spur the Jan. 6 mob invasion that killed five persons in America’s Capitol building.
Feinstein never backed off the words she used about the alleged right of Hawley, Cruz and others to try to cancel the votes of millions of citizens. “I think the Senate is a place of freedom,” Feinstein said. “People come here to speak all manner of views. That’s important.”
Perhaps Feinstein thought Hawley was merely hailing a cab outside the east façade of the Capitol when he raised his fist on the edge of the mob while it shattered the Capitol’s doors and windows.
This all produced more charges from the left echoing Feinstein’s defeated 2018 reelection opponent, former state Senate President Kevin de Leon, now a Los Angeles councilman. De Leon called Feinstein too old to serve, never mind that she’s far from the oldest senator ever, but is history’s oldest female senator.
Feinstein’s reply? She set up a new committee to raise funds for a 2024 reelection campaign that may or may not occur.
Plainly, the sentiments she voiced about Hawley and Cruz are not shared by most Californians, especially not by the vast majority of her fellow California Democrats.
Doesn’t Feinstein, who will turn 91in June 2024, realize she will draw far fiercer opposition than the politically limited de Leon if and when she runs again?
Feinstein consistently won her prior elections by large margins because she assiduously courted Californians of all sorts, Republicans and Democrats, farmers and movie moguls, women’s rights advocates and law-and-order supporters. She carefully positioned herself as almost untouchable. That’s why her November opponents included relative cupcakes like Republicans Michael Huffington, Dick Mountjoy and Elizabeth Emken.
She would surely draw much tougher foes in 2024, when the main competition would likely come from fellow Democrats under California’s top two “jungle primary” system. One might be Burbank Rep. Adam Schiff, now about to run his second impeachment trial of Trump. Others could include Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee or the Silicon Valley’s Rep. Ro Khanna, both darlings of the left, or even Newsom, if he survives a possible recall this year and then gets reelected in 2022.
Feinstein would likely face the toughest Senate campaign of her career, with the strong prospect of departing in defeat. Why not just opt out of it all, and enjoy some time free of strenuous red-eye flights to Washington? In short, the very tough, very basic question now before Feinstein is “to resign or not.”
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com