Mitch McConnell is 80 years old, and his current term as a U.S. senator ends in 2024. It’s a shame he’s not up this fall, though one imagines were that the case, he’d sound a little different.
McConnell’s had a nice, long run as the top Republican in that body. He hasn’t been a failure in that role. But the more McConnell says, the more he proves that the GOP badly needs new blood and new energy atop its Senate caucus.
Last week offered incandescent proof of this. Following a lopsided vote of the Republican National Committee to censure Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their decision to collaborate, tails wagging, with Nancy Pelosi’s kangaroo-court Jan. 6 commission, McConnell had this to say to the New York Times:
It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after legitimately certified elections, from one administration to the next. That’s what it was.
That this is a profoundly stupid statement can be easily proven by the fact it’s been more than a year since the mostly-peaceful Jan. 6 protest and not a single soul has been charged with a crime related to insurrection, treason, or even sedition.
A year is plenty enough time to generate such a charge and yet there hasn’t been one. The point of the Jan. 6 commission, which contains Cheney and Kinzinger and no other Republicans because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the highly irregular step of barring the GOP’s nominees to serve on the commission and found her own stooges to give it a false front of “bipartisanship,” was to prove that which the FBI says did not exist: a conspiracy to commit an insurrection.
In furtherance of this fruitless aim, it has undertaken tactics which in another context would surely be termed McCarthyite.
And McConnell has backed Pelosi against the voters and activists of his own party, who overwhelmingly reject everything surrounding the Democrats’ reaction to Jan. 6. It shows a great deal of contempt for Republican voters to rebuke the RNC for its protest against Kinzinger and Cheney playing kapo for Pelosi.
That was bad enough. Another NYT writeup on McConnell over the weekend has it that the Turtle is trying to recruit as many Bush Republicans and bloodless establishmentarians as he can to run in Senate races. This, for fear that the GOP will be taken over by dreaded Trump minions and the party will be lost.
As Trump works to retain his hold on the Republican Party, elevating a slate of friendly candidates in midterm elections, McConnell and his allies are quietly, desperately maneuvering to try to thwart him. The loose alliance, which was once thought of as the GOP establishment, for months has been engaged in a high-stakes candidate recruitment campaign, full of phone calls, meetings, polling memos, and promises of millions of dollars. It’s all aimed at recapturing the Senate majority, but the election also represents what could be Republicans’ last chance to reverse the spread of Trumpism before it fully consumes their party.
McConnell for years pushed Trump’s agenda and only rarely opposed him in public. But the message that he delivers privately now is unsparing, if debatable: Trump is losing political altitude and need not be feared in a primary, he has told Ducey in repeated phone calls, as the Senate leader’s lieutenants share polling data they argue proves it.
In conversations with senators and would-be senators, McConnell is blunt about the damage he believes Trump has done to the GOP, according to those who have spoken to him. Privately, he has declared he won’t let unelectable “goofballs” win Republican primaries.
History doesn’t bode well for such behind-the-scene efforts to challenge Trump, and McConnell’s hard sell is so far yielding mixed results. The former president has rallied behind fewer far-right candidates than initially feared by the party’s old guard. Yet a handful of formidable contenders have spurned McConnell’s entreaties, declining to subject themselves to Trump’s wrath all for the chance to head to a bitterly divided Washington.
Among the candidates McConnell is trying to recruit, and he’s enlisted the Jimmy Carter of the Republican Party, George W. Bush, in the effort, are governors Doug Ducey of Arizona and Larry Hogan of Maryland, both of whom have compiled a record more of officeholding than of doing much to further the cause of conservatism in their own states.
And after funding and foisting Martha McSally on the voters of Arizona and in the process losing not one but both of that state’s Senate seats, you’d think McConnell would stop trying to help there. There’s a reason Ducey got the full treatment from McConnell and Bush and hasn’t jumped into that Senate primary against Mike Brnovich and Brad Masters; he knows support from Mitch McConnell and George W. Bush is the kiss of death with GOP voters there.
McConnell is bragging about polls showing that Trump doesn’t have a firm handle on Republican voters, but he isn’t mentioning that he is the least popular elected official in Washington. There is a reason for that, which is that the Republican voters Mitch McConnell is counting on to return him to power as Senate majority leader have decided he doesn’t represent us. He represents Raytheon and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, perhaps, but neither are in great odor among the party’s base.
Way back when the Tea Party emerged as a major political force in 2009 and 2010, McConnell openly suggested that the movement could be co-opted and used for the GOP establishment’s purposes. In that, he was correct. McConnell had nothing to say when the Obama administration squelched the Tea Party with IRS audits and other abuses of power; he was simply happy about the energy those people brought to Senate elections and had no interest in returning the favor with any particular deliverables to them.
And when Trump stormed into the White House at the head of the MAGA movement, which was essentially a second wave of Tea Party activism, McConnell did almost nothing to assist that movement in making any real changes in Washington. He confirmed judges and passed a tax cut; McConnell did nothing when his pal John McCain destroyed the attempt to repeal Obamacare.
Now, McConnell is rejecting calls for the GOP to rally around a policy agenda that would animate voters and give the party accountability in a fashion similar to New Gingrich’s Contract With America in 1994. You probably saw this a couple of weeks ago:
It’s the minimum that voters often expect of congressional candidates: Spell out what it is they would do if elected.
Yet inside the Republican Party, key leaders are split on whether to roll out any sort of governing agenda ahead of the midterm elections in November. With President Joe Biden’s approval rating tumbling, one GOP faction, headed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, is betting that skewering the Democrats is all that’s needed to wrest control of the Senate. Another, led by House GOP chief Kevin McCarthy, is drawing up positions meant to persuade Americans that voting Republican might improve their lives.
Beneath the dueling approach to the midterms lies a more basic question about the party’s direction. Donald Trump first ran for office promising a sharp break from party orthodoxy. He questioned the merits of free trade and called for withdrawing U.S. forces from prolonged Middle East wars. As his presidency wound down, the party devolved into more of a vehicle for Trump to air grievances and punish foes. A candidate eager for Trump’s endorsement in the GOP primaries now stands a better chance by showing fealty to him rather than committing to a set of principles.
That NBC News piece also contained this horrendous quote…
When Trump ran for re-election in 2020, the party didn’t release a platform laying out Republican priorities; Trump was the platform. Heading into the midterm campaign season, McConnell is similarly opaque when it comes to his caucus’s priorities should it retake the majority.
“That is a very good question,” he told NBC News. “And I’ll let you know when we take it back. … This midterm election will be a report card on the performance of this entire Democratic government: the president, the House and the Senate.”
Lost in all of McConnell’s machinations is a basic point of ethics: yes, it’s good to win elections, but shouldn’t you be worthy of winning?
The good fortune McConnell expects this fall is nothing of Mitch McConnell’s making. He simply expects to hold the bag open and watch the voters pour goodies into it for him.
And that isn’t enough. It isn’t good leadership. It isn’t leadership at all.
The intriguing thing about all this is that the more correct Mitch McConnell is in projecting the voters will wholeheartedly reject Joe Biden and the Democrats in the midterms this fall, the more untenable his position as majority leader-to-be. There are some 20 or so Republicans out of 50 in the GOP Senate caucus who would reportedly choose a new leader if given the opportunity. But of the 30 who stand with McConnell at least four — Rob Portman, Richard Shelby, Pat Toomey, and Richard Burr — are leaving and it’s not a bad bet three or even four of those seats will go to Republicans thirsty for new leadership. If current circumstances persist, none of those seats will flip to the Democrats.
Then there are likely, or at least possible, GOP gains in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire. How many of those would come courtesy of Mitch McConnell adherents? If three or more of them are not, it could be enough to replace McConnell.
And if the wave is significant enough to take out, say, Patty Murray in Washington (she’s only sitting at 42 percent against a generic Republican) or Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut, or to capture the open seat in Vermont, it’s entirely possible McConnell could find himself on a backbench for the remainder of his time in the Senate.
And that would be just fine. He’s out of touch with the voters in his own party and it’s past time for him to let the new blood into the leader’s chair.
Turtles live a long time, it’s true. That isn’t such a great thing in a political context.
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