The Oklahoma Republican, an outsider's outsider, has become an essential player on key issues because if the opposition can cut a deal with Coburn, an unassailable conservative, other conservatives will go along.
When Tom Coburn – the outsider's outsider, scourge of leadership, aka "Dr. No" – arrived in the Senate in 2005, the buzz along the marble corridors was that he just might torch the place. The reasoning went something like this: If his own GOP leaders couldn't control him in the House, how much more damage could he do in the clubby Senate, where individual senators have more power to obstruct?
In a sense, Mr. Coburn did not disappoint. In the Senate, he continued his storied lone-ranger assaults on "pork" projects, dear to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and widely viewed as essential "grease" to pass legislation.
But he also defied expectations by becoming one of the rare lawmakers willing to make deals that cut across party lines. For years, the dealmakers in the Senate had been the moderates whose swing votes could tip the outcome in a divided chamber. Over time, the centrists were defeated or, weary of the gridlock, resigned.
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