Before Georgia voters delivered Democratic control of the Senate on January 5, there was a lot of talk about a possible effort to “flip” a Republican senator or two. Most speculation revolved around the last two pro-choice Republicans in Congress, Maine senator Susan Collins and Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski. Collins is the only Republican senator who managed to get reelected in 2020 in a state won by Joe Biden. And Donald Trump certainly tried to read Murkowski out of the GOP for her expressed doubts about voting for his reelection (she later confessed she wrote in some unnamed candidate). She had earlier angered Republicans by helping defeat their efforts to repeal Obamacare (along with Collins and John McCain) and by opposing Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation (unlike Collins).
In truth, Murkowski always looked like a better target for a party-switch plea. Partly that’s because Collins just got reelected as a Republican. And partly it’s a reflection of Murkowski’s own history winning reelection in 2010 as a write-in candidate after losing the GOP primary to hard-core conservative Joe Miller. But now she has made it clear she’s sticking with her party, as Politico reports:
Lisa Murkowski has made no secret of her distaste for former President Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. But she said there is “no way” she would caucus with the Senate Democrats and give Chuck Schumer an outright Senate majority. …
“I can be very discouraged at times with things that go on in my own caucus, in my own party,” Murkowski told a trio of reporters on Friday. “But I have absolutely no desire to move over to the Democratic side of the aisle. I can’t be somebody that I’m not.”
Murkowski’s decision to stay where she is may have been influenced by her state’s approval of election reforms in November that abolished party primaries in favor of a “top four” system combined with ranked-choice voting, virtually guaranteeing a center-right incumbent like her a spot in the general election and a good chance of securing second-option support from less successful candidates. But her remarks repudiating a party-switch suggested other motives as well:
Murkowski said many people in her state did not like Trump’s style but backed his policies, particularly related to his support for energy exploration. Alaska has long been mired in an economic slowdown, and Murkowski said Biden’s suspension of energy exploration permits gives her a “lot of heartburn.”
Essentially, Murkowski is admitting that her loyalty to fossil fuels makes her loyal to the GOP. That’s not a big surprise: One of her most notable pro-Trump votes was in favor of his 2017 tax proposal, which she supported only after Republicans attached a provision to it opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
It’s also possible that Democrats didn’t make Murkowski the sort of offer that they might have made had her vote been necessary to flip the Senate. Yes, having 51 senators would have made the Democratic majority firmer (particularly in 2022) while making a power-sharing agreement with Mitch McConnell (which may not pan out thanks to his demands for maintenance of the filibuster). But a potential Murkowski flip is apparently not going to happen.