[guest post by JVW]
Can you guys stand me yet again delivering a hosanna to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? Because I’m a-gonna do it anyway, irrespective of your level of pique. My Man Mitch gave an interview to National Review Online recently which is well worth reading, but I want to pull out some parts of it which I think would cause the most raised eyebrows among our fellow conservatives (and you crypto-libertarians too).
When you’ve been around as long as Mitch McConnell, few things are new, and some are almost exactly the same.
So it is that McConnell once again is opposing a Democrat in the White House pursuing a transformational agenda at the same time he is targeted by a populist Right that considers him too establishmentarian.
Ten years ago, of course, the president was Barack Obama, and the powerful populist force was the Tea Party; this time, Joe Biden is president, and the populists are led by Donald Trump who is calling for his head.
Just so. His leadership role places him in a fantastically difficult position, and though we all understand that being the Senate Minority Leader is almost assuredly an easier task than being the Senate Majority Leader, I think we can all be thankful that the GOP isn’t led by someone as unctuous and condescending as Chuck Schumer. Back to the NRO piece:
“I feel pretty good at the end of this year, given where we started with an insurrection and an impeachment trial,” McConnell says. “And now we have a new administration that’s demonstrated to the American people just how hard left they are. We’ve had a couple of elections in which that was a huge factor indicating people don’t like what they’re selling. And I think we’re going to have a good environment going into the fall of ’22.”
Plenty of commenters are pointing out that he referred to the January 6 imbroglio as “an insurrection,” so it’s clear that Cocaine Mitch is not interested in mincing words and would like to move his party into a post-Donald Trump era. Continuing on, the GOP Leader explains why he agreed to let Republican Senators participate in the infrastructure bill, despite the remonstrances of many conservatives (like me):
How the debate over BBB played out seems to vindicate McConnell’s key tactical judgment of going along with funding for so-called hard infrastructure. He considered it “the most attractive part of the huge six-trillion-dollar package,” with the support of “75 percent of the American people.” He told his members that “it’s possible to put together a bipartisan package, pass it, and think of that as the sugar and the rest of it as spinach and leave them with the spinach and see if they can swallow it.”
A bipartisan group, including Rob Portman on the Republican side and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on the Democratic side, worked on separating it out, a step McConnell told them he’d consider supporting so long as it didn’t re-open the 2017 tax bill.
He views the passage of the infrastructure package as a victory in its own right. “It associated us with something that the American people like,” he says. “They always want to see us do at least some things on a bipartisan basis, and frankly . . . it was the only thing this administration tried to do this year that I thought had any merit.”
Then, the rest of BBB became harder. “I think,” he says, “the strategy of pulling the popular part out was a big part of defeating it.” Indeed, he adds, “that’s exactly what the progressives in the House were afraid of. They were right about that.”
So as a mouth-breathing uncouth right wing extremist, I will continue to believe that the infrastructure bill was wasteful and stupid, but I acknowledge that Sen. McConnell saw the endgame far more clearly than I did. In a perfect world neither infrastructure nor Build Back Better would have passed, but if it had to only be one and if passage increases the chances that Republicans take back the Senate then I will purse my lips, grumble under my breath, and accept the outcome.
And like any good leader, Sen. McConnell keeps close track of what is going on with the other side:
The next fight will be an attempt to overhaul the filibuster for the sake of an elections bill, but McConnell is “absolutely convinced Senator Sinema is not going to participate in that.” He says he talks to Manchin and Sinema “frequently,” explaining that “they want to operate in the political center, and so they’ve talked to us.”
As for Biden, McConnell says he hears from the president “once in a while,” although “we haven’t had much to talk about this year.” Why has Biden gone so far left? “I think he misread the mandate,” he says, “and took bad advice. Of course, Joe was never a moderate in the Senate. So I wasn’t totally surprised that . . . he ended up not being a moderate president.”
For those of us (including me) who wondered if “surrendering” to Democrats on allowing the debt limit increase without seemingly gaining any real concessions from Democrats was a wise move, Cocaine Mitch implores us to get real and read the tea leaves (except he doesn’t speak in the trite clichés in which I write):
As for his other tactical maneuvers that have been criticized, McConnell says shutting down the government and a crisis over the debt ceiling were “the two things we could have done to blow ourselves up and make us the issue instead of them.” By sidestepping them, he says, “we avoided some of these suicide missions that various members of my party in the past have tried to take us on.”
What’s his reply to the critiques of him from the populist right as too much of an accommodationist? “Well, my response to that,” McConnell says, “is look at the polls. How’s it look out there after a year of this administration? After a year of us not becoming the issue and letting them be [on] full display? We must be doing something right.”
As usual, I have given you a great deal of the NRO piece, but I still urge you to venture over there to read the few paragraphs I have left out, especially the part where the wise Kentuckian forecasts the 2022 elections. I stand by my earlier assessment that Mitch McConnell, a 36-year Senate veteran two months short of age 80 who was reelected this past November, needs to begin the process of preparing the next Senate GOP Leader for a post-Mitch party, but we should all feel grateful that he has been the guy at the helm in the Senate for the default conservative party these past fifteen years.