Kelly Ayotte — stranded

Heading into this session of Congress, any list of young, rising Republican Senators would have included not just Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, but also Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. However, that was before she joined the McCain-Graham-Ayotte trio.

The formation of that trio seemed like a good idea at the time. It offered McCain and Graham a fresh, diverse face. And since Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton were slated to be targets, Ayotte’s presence would help rebut the inevitable (and absurd) charge of sexism.

From Ayotte’s point of view, the alliance would elevate her profile, while providing her with national security/foreign policy credentials and the appearance of gravitas. Moreover, McCain has long been popular in New Hampshire.

But now McCain and Graham have made themselves the symbol of all that’s objectionable about the “past its sell-by date” Republican establishment. They did so primarily through their attacks on Rand Paul — fair in principle, I believe, but over-the-top in execution.

Even before the filibuster, though, McCain and Graham were suffering from over-exposure and from their convoluted approach to the Hagel nomination. For example, McCain’s vote to end the filibuster of a nominee for Secretary of Defense he deemed unqualified was cutting it too fine for many conservatives.

Where does this leave Ayotte? Light years behind Cruz, Rubio, and Paul in the estimation of many conservatives.

Is the damage irreparable? Probably not. We should remember that Ayotte has stood with McCain and Graham on issues where they had the right line — most notably in trying to find out what happened in Benghazi. She did not denounce Rand Paul’s filibuster.

It will be interesting to see whether the McCain-Graham-Ayotte trio appears again in public. My advice to the Senator from New Hampshire would be to go solo from now on. Or, if there’s to be a reunion, confine the performance to Benghazi-related issues.