Jamelle Bouie calls the Democrats’ handling of the “nuclear option” debate in 2005 “the strategic mistake of the decade”, observing “I’m sure there are plenty of Senate Democrats who look back and wish that they would have let Frist go nuclear.”
Since this is something I managed to be right about at the time, it’s worth rehashing the issue in some detail.
For one thing, note that what the Republicans were actually trying to do at the time was nuts. They wanted to use Calvinball mid-session methods to establish a new rule holding that supermajority voting would be used for everything except judicial nominations. That’s a bit odd. If you were designing a legislature from scratch, I’d say that judicial confirmations are, along with constitutional amendments, one of the relatively few areas where it might make sense to require a supermajority. So it was perfectly fine that Democrats didn’t want to simply “give in” on the point.
But this would have been a natural time to propose a broader reform of congressional procedure. It’s possible that doing so would have produced broad congressional reform. It’s also possible that doing so would have led the GOP to defend the status quo, and let Democrats continue obstructing the nominees in question. But instead the “gang of 12” got us the worst of both worlds — Bush’s nominees were put on the bench (bad) but the “principle” of minority obstructionism was upheld. It was a disaster and the disastrous nature of the deal was foreseeable at the time.