Opinion | Two reasons Republicans might turn on Mitch McConnell

Opinion | Two reasons Republicans might turn on Mitch McConnell

Democrats have long abhorred Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for the many ways he has bedeviled them, but the gravest threat to his leadership is now coming from inside his own party. On two recent occasions, McConnell froze while talking to reporters, raising questions about whether the 81-year-old can still perform his duties, and some Republicans appear to be unsheathing their knives to take out one of their most effective party leaders ever.

There are two reasons for this that go beyond concerns about McConnell’s health, one more obvious and one less so. At a moment when the primary GOP argument against President Biden is that he’s too old to serve a second term, some believe they can win points by saying they pushed out their own aging lion. More importantly, McConnell’s most dramatic feats of partisanship are in the past, and a party still in former president Donald Trump’s thrall is ready to be rid of him.

National Review has called on McConnell to step down. Fox News’s Laura Ingraham said it’s “stunning and frankly irresponsible” that McConnell’s GOP colleagues haven’t pressed him to retire. Former South Carolina governor, and current GOP presidential candidate, Nikki Haley said of McConnell and other aging members of Congress, “At what point do they get it’s time to leave?”

So far, elected Republicans are standing behind him — but that might not last.

McConnell has led Senate Republicans since 2007 and the most vital period in that time was the Obama presidency, during which he designed and executed a strategy of maximal resistance, opposing just about everything Barack Obama wanted to do. Most dramatically, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in early 2016, the senator took the unprecedented step of refusing to hear the nomination of Merrick Garland — keeping the seat open until Republicans filled it in 2017 under President Trump.

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The Kentucky senator would later brag that this was “the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire public career.” Yet today, McConnell gets almost no love from the right for delivering them the court and everything it has done. In politics, memories can be awfully short.

For many years, McConnell has been the most unpopular politician in the United States; In the latest Economist-YouGov poll, he has a remarkable net -52 approval rating. (Biden and Trump are at -17 and -18 net approval, respectively.) The problem for McConnell is that Republicans dislike him, too: Only 21 percent of them have a favorable opinion of him, while 61 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Among his own constituents, he ranks as the least popular senator in the country.

Why don’t the Republican rank-and-file have more affection for someone who has done so much for their party? Because in today’s GOP, opposing the party “establishment” is de rigueur — and no one is more establishment than McConnell.

That was true a decade ago, but it’s even more true today. Trump himself pours a never-ending stream of vitriol on McConnell, who never worked too hard to pretend that he thought highly of Trump as a person or a politician. Immediately after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, McConnell put the blame on the former president. He also lamented the Republican Party’s “candidate quality” problem in 2022, which everyone understood to be code for “We’ve nominated too many Trump-worshiping cranks.” He was right on both counts.

But McConnell’s biggest problem might be that he hasn’t made Biden’s life miserable. Instead, Biden got a great deal of legislation passed in his first two years, some of it bipartisan, and has done a good job filling the judiciary with liberal judges.

While there has never been a more committed partisan than McConnell, he’s capable of taking a long view, which sometimes means pursuing something other than maximal short-term chaos. He might allow a budget agreement or a bipartisan bill on something such as infrastructure to defuse the perception that his party is extreme and irresponsible, which the MAGA wing will see only as a betrayal. In a party gripped by lunatic conspiracy theories and culture war mania, few see McConnell as the vanguard of opposition to the president.

And with the fading memory of his glory years under Obama, a potential second Trump presidency might not have a place for him — even if none of his potential replacements is a far-right fire-breather.

McConnell’s greatest skill until now has been keeping Senate Republicans united, even as he has made some enemies within his caucus. But in the coming days, expect more Republicans to say publicly what they might now only be saying privately about the senator.

Originally Appeared Here

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Caroline Vega combines over a decade of digital strategy expertise with a deep passion for journalism, originating from her academic roots at Louisiana State University. As an editor based in New Orleans, she directs the editorial narrative at Commercial Lending News, where she crafts compelling content on commercial lending. Her unique approach weaves her background in finance and digital marketing into stories that not only inform but also drive industry conversations forward.