Is Kyrsten Sinema Just the Glenn Greenwald of Senators?

Jonathan Chait / New York Magazine
Is Kyrsten Sinema Just the Glenn Greenwald of Senators? Kyrsten Sinema participates in a coin toss at an Arizona State football game on November 3, 2018. (photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The fate of Joe Biden’s presidency is increasingly subject to the whims of Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Yet as a decision deadline gets closer, the question of just what Sinema wants, and why she wants it, is becoming less and less clear. What kind of deal does she want? Does she want a deal at all? Does she even want a political career?

The Senate’s most peculiar and inscrutable member has inspired numerous theories, not all mutually exclusive. Here are the five most popular.

1. She’s the Glenn Greenwald of senators.

The evidence: Sinema used to hate Democrats and liberals from the left, self-identifying as a socialist and running as a Green Party member. Now she hates them from the right. The consistent theme in her career is a contempt for the hard, unglamorous work of programmatic liberalism.

The counterargument: Unlike Greenwald, between her career as a left-wing liberal-hater from the left and a liberal-hater from the right, she did have a brief stop as a relatively standard-issue Democrat.

2. She’s just a narcissist.

The evidence: Has worn a “Fuck Off” ring. Enjoys displays of flamboyant trolling, like doing a curtesy while performing an exaggerated thumbs-down to oppose a minimum-wage increase. Voted against the Trump tax cuts but now reportedly opposes rolling them back even in part.

The counterargument: Sinema doesn’t seem to merely want chaos. Her positions line up closely with what wealthy lobbyists desire. She wants low taxes for the wealthy, and doesn’t want to let the federal government negotiate down the cost of prescription drugs.

3. She wants to be an independent.

The evidence: Sinema has reportedly tried to fashion herself after John McCain, seeking out high-profile confrontations with her party, even aping McCain’s thumbs-down moment. Michelle Cottle makes the case for why Sinema can and should leave her party and run as an independent in 2024.

The counterargument: It’s not impossible to win as an independent, but it’s extremely hard. Senators Bernie Sanders and Angus King are both independents, but they caucus with the Democrats and rely on overwhelming Democratic Party support to hold their seats. If Sinema leaves the party, she’ll be running against an actual Democratic nominee who will win most of the nonconservative votes.

4. She wants to be a lobbyist.

The evidence: She is putting her career at risk for no apparent political benefit. The independent path is extremely dicey, and polling shows she would lose a one-on-one race to any one of several potential Democratic primary challengers by margins ranging from 30 to 40 points.

If she is sabotaging her chances of winning reelection while taking positions that line up perfectly with wealthy interests, maybe she just wants to work for them instead of the public?

The counterargument: You don’t actually need to work for wealthy interests as an elected official in order to get a job as a lobbyist. They’re happy to hire Democrats with liberal views and pay them to change their mind.

5. She’s drawn to flattery and repelled by criticism.

The evidence: Some people are highly sensitive to praise and criticism, and allow their worldview to be shaped by it. They meet new friends who seem impressed by them, and suddenly find the arguments made by these new friends compelling. Meanwhile, they have a new group of enemies who berate them, and they react by growing more skeptical about everything their critics think, even things they once believed themselves.

We’ve all seen this irrational process happen to people we know, including people who write about politics for a living. Why not Sinema?

The counterargument: It’s an insult to suggest Sinema would be so mentally weak as to engineer a moral and political catastrophe out of a petty weakness for flattery. She is indisputably a brilliant, moral, thoughtful, courageous, principled leader, as well as a world-class athlete and quite possible the greatest human being who has ever lived.

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