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The Republicans’ Mitch McConnell Problem

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

One of the annoying tendencies of our conservative-populist movement is to conflate objective evaluations of individuals in the arena with the approval of those individuals. For years, I have found Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell to be a frustrating and imperious charter member of the GOP establishment while simultaneously being the best parliamentary leader we have had in living memory. He has done important things for the movement. I get a lot of grief for saying, “You must love Mitch!” but that’s fine. We need to be objective instead of emotional – we’re not Democrats. And he was objectively skilled and effective once upon a time. Who else could keep a caucus that ranged from maple syrup-moderate Susan Collins, to based Show-Me State conservative Josh Hawley mostly together? Who else was tough enough to hold out under the pressure of the entire regime media to let Obama appoint the odious Merrick Garland to SCOTUS?


No one. That’s just a fact. As much as his contempt for the base grates – and he has always had nothing but contempt for mere plebes – once upon a time, Senator McConnell got it done. Cocaine Mitch may have caused us cons fits, but he gave the Dems grand mals.

And then came the last two years.

It’s time to face facts. The Mitch McConnell of today is not the savvy and savage killer of yesteryear. The Mitch McConnell of today is hapless and hated, weak and tone deaf, barely competition for the second-rate hack who is Chuck Schumer. He is perhaps the most unpopular major politician in America, a group that includes Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. It’s sad, but at 80 years old, Mitch McConnell is fading, and he is not going quietly. Instead, he is raging at the GOP base for daring to object to his increasingly opaque and bumbling schemes.

It's getting sad.

He is of a kind with failed RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel – failing, flailing, and unwilling to give up power even when it is crystal clear that it is past time to let go.

Let’s review McConnell’s rise and precipitous downfall. Like so many other establishment notables, Donald Trump broke him. As the consummate insider, the guy who played the long game to get to the pinnacle of parliamentary power, he always resented outsiders and interlopers. He was no friend of the Tea Party. He loved the votes and the energy but not the insistence by those uppity peasants that they get a say in policy. After all, policy is the domain of him and his, not of angry housewives, insurance salesmen, and other citizens who neither know nor appreciate how government business is done. When the Tea Party insurgents attacked business as usual, McConnell correctly read the attack on the institutions like the Senate as an attack on him. Out-of-touch, high-handed, and arrogant were features, not bugs, in his mind.


And Trump was the ultimate outsider. Trump got power without eating a hundred dry chicken breasts at a hundred dry Lincoln dinners across Kentucky. And worse, when Trump got power, he used it to keep his promises when the purpose of promises was obviously to get elected so one could go to Washington and take care of business, ignoring the campaign covenants that everyone in the club understands are merely a necessary evil.

Needless to say, you are not in the club.

McConnell always hated Trump – you could see it, and Mitch was never one to hide his feelings. Of course, Trump now hates him back in stupid and tacky ways, meaning volleys of pointless, counterproductive shots back and forth between two old men whose eras are ending. During 45’s reign, McConnell pursued his priorities rather than the President’s. He was responsible for the great judicial renewal under Trump, including appointing three Supreme Court justices. Holding the Scalia seat open for Gorsuch, shepherding Barrett, and hanging tough for Kavanaugh – McConnell deserves props for saving the Court for a generation. But he did not force through other Trumpian priorities – the border was never resolved, our military was largely weakened due to ill-conceived overseas antics, and the budget ballooned. He decided to wait Trump out, knowing that things would return to normal with the orange interloper gone. Don’t imagine that he cried when Joe Biden allegedly won.

And then, even without a GOP majority, it should have been his time to shine. His guerrilla campaign to obstruct Obama as minority leader a decade ago was legendary. You might have thought he would be the voice of the Republican Party saying “No,” but that is not how it went. Like Justice Roberts, Mitch McConnell places the interests of his institution above all else – he wants to preserve the Senate just like Roberts wants to preserve the Supreme Court. And like Roberts, McConnell is in the process of burning down his village to save it.


He wants a return to the old-time transactional Senate of yesterday and showed it by voting for Merrick Garland for Attorney General. Garland proceeded to persecute Republicans, and McConnell has not uttered a peep. He has also tolerated collaboration with enemy initiatives. Who the hell voted for a Republican to go to Washington and sign onto a Democrat gun control law? No one, yet McConnell 2.0 let his Texas minion John Cornyn do that and give the Schumer/Biden team a big win. Mitch 1.0 would have taken Cornyn out back and slapped him silly. The same was true of the recent marriage law that shafts traditional families – if Previous Mitch had said “No dice,” this attempt to screw over traditional Americans would have been a non-starter. But he let it happen. What was he thinking?

And this Omnibus monstrosity… ugh. You have to believe that McConnell wanted it to go down as it did because he could have stopped it. The Senate had a whole year to pass its appropriations, and it waited until the week before Christmas, dropping the 4100-page turd in the legislative punch bowl just hours before the vote. No real debate, no real amendments – McConnell could have at least had his caucus hold out for a Title 42 extension, but he did not. Some might say he could not have made that amendment happen, but isn’t that even worse? What good is a powerless Mitch McConnell? A powerful one is bad enough.

Then there is Ukraine. Younger Mitch would never have been so insane as to announce that giving money to Ukraine to secure its border when ours is wide open is the Republican Party’s Number One priority. It is not our Number One priority. It is not even in the Top Ten. The base was disgusted and appalled. We just lost the midterms, and then this – anyone shocked that so many Republicans stayed home? But Mitch did not care – that turtle toughness again, yet where it is helpful when aimed at our opponents, it is self-destructive when aimed at our people.


And the midterm election – there is plenty of blame for that clusterfark, but Mitch shares the blame for not winning the Senate majority. It is all his fault? No. There is plenty of fault to go around, including Trump and Ronna McDaniel, his fellow establishmentarian offended that the masses are trying to hold her accountable for her sub-par performance (Do your part to rid our party of this loser by going to The fact is that Mitch McConnell is the man in the Senate, and the man gets the credit when we win, and the man gets the blame when we lose. Did his leadership inspire GOP voters? Maybe to stay home, which many did. Why bother to vote for Republicans when they feel free to vote with Democrats because McConnell won’t (or worse, can’t) stop them?

Mitch did not like some of the Senate candidates the base picked, but he might have kept his mouth shut during the election season. And after the election, too – no one needs him saying, “I told you so,” when he spent a ton of cash on keeping leftist Lisa Murkowski in power over an actual Republican in Alaska. I can only assume he was trying to buy off Murkowski so she did not jump parties, but it was still a terrible look. It looks like he did not want a true conservative voice in that seat, and he probably did not.

His decline can no longer be denied. Mitch is staggering. He’s past his prime and making rookie mistakes. Schumer and the Dems are laughing at him. His respect among his peers on both sides of the aisle and the base is circling the drain, and it’s sad – he deserves credit for the past, but in politics, the question is always, “What have you done for me lately?” Sadly, the answer today is “Nothing except fail.”


But the fading McConnell will not go quietly into that good night – he will rage at the dying of the legislative light and his voters. The same uncompromising toughness – and he is tough – that once made McConnell a fearsome foe is now aimed not at the Democrat enemy but at those of us who he is supposed to represent and who are insufficiently obedient. Old people get angry when defied – look at his elderly analog Joe Biden or socialist spinster Taylor Lorenz. The sad and undeniable truth is that Mitch no longer seems focused on winning conservative victories but on lashing out at those within the GOP who offend him. And that’s why he keeps losing over and over again.

It's sad to see him go out this way. It’s undignified. It’s time for him to step back and find someone not named Cornyn to step up. Mitch McConnell has run a good race, slow and steady, but the hare will not be caught napping this time. The Democrats are running circles around him, and his desperate clutching at his declining power is not merely embarrassing but has already hurt the Republican Party in past elections and will hurt them in the future – why vote GOP if you still get Democrat priorities? Mitch is too old, too unpopular, too angry, and increasingly too ineffective to be the senior Republican elected official. It’s time for the Murder Turtle to withdraw into his shell.

Follow Kurt on Twitter @KurtSchlichter. Get Inferno, the seventh book in the Kelly Turnbull People's Republic series of conservative action novels set in America after a notional national divorce, as well as his non-fiction book We’ll Be Back: The Fall and Rise of America.


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