4 Winners From 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" allowing gays to serve openly in the military is a landmark legislation - a historic civil rights bill that will be remembered in the history books for generations to come. But the political implications of its passage are also very significant, for both the White House and several leading senators whose fortunes changed overnight.

Here are the four big political winners in the wake of the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal:


1. President Obama. Obama, without even much behind-the-scenes arm twisting, managed to see one of his campaign promises, and an issue near and dear to his liberal base passed - in a bipartisan fashion, no less. It, along with the tax compromise, will make his Christmas vacation in Hawaii much sweeter.

If anything, Obama should have been more outspoken in his support for the bill - it was the work of leading senators (notably Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins and Harry Reid) that helped revive its prospects. But he also has a great opportunity to have his own Clinton-like Sister Souljah moment thanks to repeal.

As former Bush speechwriter David Frum pointed out over the weekend, Obama has a golden opportunity to score conservative points thanks to the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Frum noted that he could use his upcoming State of the Union to urge Ivy League universities to end the ban on ROTC recruiting on their campuses, now that gays can serve openly in the military. That would make him sound both pro-military and score symbolic points that would make the right happy.

2. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.): Lieberman's persistent advocacy for the bill, both publicly and behind-the-scenes, played a major role in its passage. And he looks to have revived his political prospects for 2012, which looked very dim just weeks ago. Lieberman now has a viable path to win re-election as either a Democrat or independent.

Will a liberal, like Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), want to give up his rising career in the House to challenge him in a Democratic primary, when Lieberman can now point to his leadership on an issue dear to the Democratic base? Does his hawkishness on foreign policy annoy liberals as much in 2012, when Obama has increased the troop levels in Afghanistan, and has embraced many elements of President Bush's counterterrorism policies himself? The risk-reward ratio just got much higher for any Democratic challenger to Lieberman, and suddenly puts him in credible position to get re-elected.

3. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.): Has any senator up in 2012 positioned themselves as skillfully as Brown has? Since winning the special election, Brown has adroitly maintained a fiscally-conservative profile - coming out against earmarks, supporting the tax compromise - while finding common cause with Democrats on other high-profile issues. His approval rating in Massachusetts is in strong shape for a Republican, thanks to his socially-moderate image. Brown's backing of DADT repeal will only serve to improve those numbers.

4. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.): Kirk, who was just sworn in this month, took a big step in solidifying his centrist credentials in the Senate by voting for repeal. He's not up for re-election again until 2016, but if this vote is any indication, he will continue to act like the fiscally-conservative, socially-moderate member of Congress as he did with great success in the House.

Thumbnail image credit: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

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Josh Kraushaar is the political editor for National Journal.

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