The Spectacle Blog

There Isn’t a Libertarian Case for Mitch McConnell

By on 2.20.14 | 10:45AM

I consider Jim Antle a friend. He’s one of the best political writers in Washington and he was a kind, considerate editor for me and many others during his time at TAS. The young writers he now mentors at the Daily Caller are fortunate for his guidance.

However, I think he’s mistaken to suggest that there’s a libertarian case for supporting Mitch McConnell. I agree with Jim that McConnell has defended free speech against stifling campaign finance reform laws. The National Journal piece Jim links offers a fair accounting of McConnell’s mastery of parliamentarian procedure and his willingness to fight ObamaCare behind closed doors. Fair enough.

I also agree that conservatives can—and should—put their representatives in uncomfortable places. It improves outcomes when we remind the incumbent class that they’re accountable for their bad votes. Think back to Orrin Hatch’s last reelection battle. Facing the fight of his political life in 2012, Hatch reversed his opposition to comprehensive earmark prohibition and support for the FARM bill. In a dramatic about-face, he offered his unconditional support for Rand Paul’s budget to drastically cut back the size and scope of government. After he secured reelection? He’s bullish on big government again.  

This is what we should expect from Senator McConnell. Remember, this is the guy who voted for the “Super Committee” debt hike, TARP, the Fannie/Freddie bailout, a minimum wage, Medicare Part D, and a permanent PATRIOT Act. He’s been voting to raise the debt ceiling since Reagan was in office.

Paul-ish posturing aside, I doubt he’s changed his political stripes.  

I would argue—and I think Jim would agree—that McConnell’s deference to the junior senator from his home state owes more to political expedience than an evolution of principle. As Jim notes, a couple years before McConnell hired Jesse Benton to run his reelection campaign, he bet against Team Paul and endorsed Trey Grayson. Paul wiped the floor with the establishment’s endorsee (who now co-chairs “GabbyPAC” with uber-lefty Robert Reich), and his favorability has only grown during his time in office.

After 30 years in office, McConnell can read the political tea leaves.

#StandWithRand? That was a no-brainer for Mitch. He also took every opportunity to fundraise off Paul’s filibuster. So did the NRSC. I wouldn’t read any libertarian leanings into this opportune decision. Neither was McConnell’s opposition to therapeutic strikes in Syria a statement of purpose. As Sean Sullivan detailed, McConnell broke with congressional leadership, but only after a protracted stint on the fence. The Syria episode was unique—and I doubt Jim can envision a circumstance where Senate Majority Leader McConnell counters President Romney’s determination to insert American missiles into a distant civil war. (Ditto Senator Rubio.)

So even if I don’t see the libertarian case for Mitch McConnell. I’m delighted he’s reminded that he wasn’t elected Senator for Life, and he’ll have to bend to a new normal—at least until election day.

Can I forgive Rand his endorsement? Sure. He still tilts at windmills, but I believe that Mitch McConnell helped him evolve from a lonely ideologue into a political entrepreneur. I just doubt Mitch mentored his Bluegrass counterpart for the sake of principle, rather than self-preservation.

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