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How Mitch McConnell overplayed on everything
Can we stop calling him a master tactician once and for all?
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It’s difficult to count the number of times Mitch McConnell, like many political leaders, has royally screwed up in the past, yet Beltway reporters continue to call him a political genius and master strategist. Yet, the bungling of the upcoming mid-term elections and his chance to take back the Senate is an epic example of McConnell being anything politically savvy.
No one should be getting comfortable of course, and the GOP could always pull it out despite McConnell’s blunders — so keep focused on the mid-terms. But it’s important to look at how badly McConnell overplayed, going way back.
McConnell’s reputation as a canny politician among political reporters is mostly based on his breaking of norms and rules, by the way, more than by his out-maneuvering Democrats. Stopping President Obama from putting Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court wasn’t some chess-like strategic maneuver — it was outright theft, stealing a Supreme Court seat.
And now we’re seeing how McConnell actually flops badly — and how even his shameless power grabs of the past do come back to haunt him.
Republicans right now are looking at several Senate races in which they were expected to be winning but are not only seeing candidates struggle in those races (Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Ohio) ; they’re having to fight hard to save incumbents who see their Democratic opponents surging, such as in Wisconsin and Florida. I wrote about the struggles back in mid-July. It’s only gotten worse. McConnell himself has admitted his chances or winning back the Senate are dimming, and even the most conventional Beltway forecasters are saying it doesn’t look good for the GOP.
Yes, Democrats are surging on new energy and much of it is about President Biden and Democrats getting a wave of legislation passed. But even this was due to Democrats out-maneuvering McConnell, who believed there was some sort of deal in which Democrats — and Joe Manchin specifically — wouldn’t go through with the Inflation Reduction Act via budget reconciliation (and just 50 votes needed) if McConnell allowed Republicans to vote for the massive semi-conductor bill that President Biden signed into law.
But Mitch got played.
On top of that, after he and the GOP tried to take out their revenge by stalling a bill to help veterans who suffered from illnesses caused by burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, it backfired spectacularly. A public uproar spurred by politically-engaged veterans groups forced the GOP to finally vote for it, giving veterans much-needed help — and giving President Biden another win.
All the while, the GOP suffered even more PR damage, portrayed as a callous, ruthless party, as if more evidence was needed.
But now let’s look at the ways McConnell’s mistakes, sometimes seen as shrewd or savvy actions at the time, have led to to the current situation for the GOP:
Not convicting Donald Trump after he was impeached by the House — not once, but twice. Had McConnell rallied Republican senators to impeach Trump after the insurrection, Trump would be in the rear-view mirror, instead of bedeviling Republicans now. McConnell thought it was strategically better not to anger the Trump base, and that Trump would just fade into the background eventually. Yes, convicting him would have caused outrage — but the GOP would suffer momentarily, have some losses perhaps, and then come back from it. Instead, McConnell allowed Trump and the Big Lie to just get bigger and bigger. The result: Trump owns the party now more than ever.
Not supporting an independent January 6th commission: After the House voted to form an independent January 6th commission — with House Republicans having negotiated the terms — McConnell thought the shrewd thing was to have Senate Republicans vote it down. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. An independent commission would, today, have no members of Congress on it, and would have Republicans and conservatives appointed by Trumpists in Congress.
It would likely be a deadlocked with “both sides” arguments and Trump loyalists defending Trump. They could have even stalled it, and for all we know they’d not have had anything done by now. When the Senate voted down the commission, it led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to form the Select Committee. That put January 6th front and center all during spring and summer — with Republican Liz Cheney, from the McConnell wing of the old GOP — leading the charge. McConnell thought that stopping the commission would tuck January 6th away. Instead it is now a major campaign issue — haunting GOP candidates — thanks to the select committee. And Liz Cheney, now with a rock star profile, is on the campaign trail, working against McConnell’s election-denying candidates.
Stacking the Supreme Court with extremists: McConnell stole a seat from President Obama, and then, after Trump was elected, changed the filibuster rule for judges to exempt the Supreme Court. This allowed him to put three extremists on the court without the 60-vote threshold. He was very full of himself about this — and Beltway reporters often described all this as McConnell being the master strategist.
But today the radical authoritarian Supreme Court that McConnell created is biting him in his tired ass. The court’s rulings have been way out of step with the majority of Americans on so many issues, from gun laws to separation of church and state. But the big one of course is the overturning of Roe v. Wade, months before the mid-term elections. This was the political earthquake heard round the world, and you can’t help but wonder if McConnell got way more than be bargained for.
McConnell, after all, doesn’t care about abortion — or anything. He just cares about power. Roe was always a great organizing tool for the GOP as long as it wasn’t actually overturned. McConnell probably thought he was being shrewd, thinking Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch were the types who would play to the base but not actually go there. But they did. And now the ruling has galvanized Democrats, independents and many Republicans, and thrown the GOP into turmoil, completely altering the political landscape.
Criticizing the current GOP Senate candidates: McConnell, in stating in the past week that the Senate may be lost to the GOP, pointed to “candidate quality” as the problem. McConnell’s goal in stating there is a problem was to sound the alarm to big donors that the GOP will need help. But attacking the candidates was just plain stupid, as it doesn’t make a donor really want to put their money behind a loser. McConnell was angry and frustrated, and lashing out at Trump — who is responsible for all the bad candidates. It was an undisciplined moment and it had Trump then attacking him in a statement, asking, “Why do Republicans Senators allow a broken down hack politician, Mitch McConnell, to openly disparage hard working Republican candidates for the United States Senate?”
So McConnell got himself attacked by Trump and admitted he’s got bad candidates (because he allowed Trump to annoint them). Not very canny.
Allowing Florida Senator Rick Scott to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee: Embattled GOP Senate candidates are begging for money, as strategists and campaign officials are charging that the National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by Florida GOP Senator Rick Scott, has mismanaged (absconded?) millions of dollars, with some calling for a full-blown investigation. Republicans are demanding to know what happened to the money, and of course Scott’s Medicare fraud settlement is resurfacing, from when he was accused of making his fortune on Medicare fraud.
Not very smart to put Rick Scott in charge. And whatever happened, the bottom line is: the money is running low at a time when the GOP needs it.
Again, no one should be thinking the GOP is sunk and can’t come back from these disasters — and overcome McConnell’s bad decision-making. It’s happened before. We’re still three months from election day. Everyone’s got to proceed full speed ahead, and focus on the House as well.
But let’s once and for all bury the idea that McConnell is some master strategist and genius. He’s a power monger, first and foremost. And all too often, a zealous lust for power creates a lot of cloudy judgement.