Many of my former colleagues, still slaving away on Capitol Hill, insist that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is really a genius and we’re all lucky to have him as majority leader.
McConnell is a real mover-and-shaker, my friends say. He employs classic Machiavellian maneuvers—and is in possession of a lifetime’s worth of knowledge about Senate rules—to shepherd desired legislation through the clogged pipes of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. When in front of the camera, however, McConnell deviously exudes the charisma of the friendly old man up the road, whose unassuming manner immediately puts one at ease, and makes you want to share your life’s story over a glass of cool lemonade on a hot Kentucky day.
Or so they argue. I haven’t actually met anyone outside their circles desirous of lemonade on a hot day in Kentucky or anywhere else. But legends die hard on Capitol Hill, it seems, and so do fairy tales.
If McConnell is such a serious power player—a real leader of strategic forethought and decisiveness—how come his legislative agenda is stalled and his party is losing? Like an idiot savant who knows many details of one, specific subject (but is unaware of his overall imbecility), McConnell keeps plugging ahead in politics, achieving many stated and very small objectives, but all of them seem unrelated to any discernible strategy for Republicans. From the outside, it sure looks like his job is to lose.
Thinking Small for Decades
McConnell has been in elected office since the 1970s. Before that, he worked for other politicians in Washington. Although he may be from Kentucky, he is as much a creature of Washington, D.C. as Hillary Clinton. Now, I would be willing to overlook these shortcomings if McConnell was even somewhat capable (or willing) to pass the agenda that I wanted him to. But he hasn’t passed the agenda that most Trump voters support. He can’t. He won’t.
What has McConnell done to so earn his reputation as a steely, effective insider and a rock-ribbed conservative? In asking this question, we may discover the uselessness of the term “conservative.” It means too many different things to different people. Applied to a politician like McConnell, the term encompasses almost none of the policy positions Trump voters like me would advance. McConnell represents yesterday’s policies and priorities, serving the interests of a donor class that is unaware, even, of what best serves their own long-term interests. They think small.
Here is an elected official who categorically represents the interests of big corporations at the expense of the common voter. McConnell shifts with the wind—and the wind in D.C. is always blowing leftward. Unsurprisingly, McConnell is a former lobbyist whose wife seems to have a permanent, recurring role in Republican administrations—regardless of her qualifications (other than being the Senate majority leader’s wife). Corporatism, cowardice, and cronyism—McConnell is the embodiment of strong leadership, eh?
It’s strange. Now that McConnell has a friendly audience in the White House (and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress), he seems even less capable of implementing legislation than he was during the Obama era!
Most recently, McConnell was behind the political (and character) assassination of his fellow Republican, Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. Moore had an excellent chance of winning, if not for McConnell’s efforts to undercut him. Moore’s defeat leaves Republicans with a slim, one-seat majority in the Senate, which could severely hinder the Trump legislative agenda in 2018.
Who’s Serving Whom?
There was a time when a party elder such as McConnell would have focused only on preserving his majority, leaving gossip and rumors to the press. Clearly, those times are over (not so for the Democrats, though, who’ve yet to force Al Franken to actually resign).
Of course, we know the real reason why McConnell and his fellow establishment Republicans destroyed Roy Moore. The former state supreme court justice did not share the elite Republicans’ proclivities or worldview, and he actually promised to work to help implement the agenda Donald Trump campaigned on in 2016. Unlike McConnell, the Roy Moore-type Republican will not serve corporate masters; they will serve the will of the people. Moore was too much like Trump—a wildcard. That is a threat to Mitch McConnell.
When Trump was elected, it was clear that McConnell and the other lifers in the Republican establishment felt the change represented a dire threat to their way of doing business. Trump and his supporters had busted up the elite’s cushy club in Washington, D.C. Anyone who has ever been a part of an exclusive organization knows that when you let one upstart in, the proverbial floodgates are opened. Roy Moore and others like him were the flood. Mitch McConnell became the dam.
This gets us back to the Machiavellian McConnell we keep hearing about. When the GOP won the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections, McConnell and other Republican elites told voters that they could not implement any conservative legislation until they also got the Senate. By 2016, the GOP was given that (and more). Yet, the Republicans keep losing.
Why didn’t McConnell, the political genius, have a retinue of legislation ready for Trump’s signature the day the 45th president was sworn into office? What we’ve seen instead is a series of mostly failed, rushed pieces of legislation coupled with inattentive and feckless congressional leadership. Maybe McConnell wants Trump to fail. But, even with the pending tax bill, what should have been an easy win has been fraught with uncertainty and missed opportunities.
McConnell is presiding over a dying party—and he is one of the main causes of that slow, painful death. The majority leader’s actions are not the work of a mad genius; they’re the work of a corrupt stooge desperately clinging to fame and power. If he wanted to do a true service to his country, he’d leave the Senate and clear the way for fresh new leadership. But service appears to be low on McConnell’s list of priorities. So much for genius.