MCCONNELL IN PUBLIC VS MCCONNELL IN PRIVATE…. And here I thought George W. Bush’s book wouldn’t have any interesting tidbits. There were some notable revelations last week, but Justin Elliott flags another one that seems especially illuminating.
Before the 2006 midterm elections in which Republicans ultimately took a clobbering, Sen. Mitch McConnell asked President Bush in a private Oval Office meeting to pull some troops out of Iraq in order to boost the GOP’s chances, Bush reports in his new memoir.
And in the same month — September 2006 — that McConnell made his private request, he publicly blasted Democrats for calling for a reduction of troops in Iraq, saying that their position endangered Americans.
At the time, Democrats, poised to make big gains in the midterm elections, pressed Bush to change direction on the U.S. policy in Iraq. What we didn’t know was that McConnell met with Bush privately in the Oval Office, insisting that the Republican majority was in jeopardy. When asked for suggestions, according to Bush’s account, McConnell said, “Mr. President, bring some troops home from Iraq.”
The then-president, of course, declined, and soon after did the opposite.
Why is this important? Because while McConnell was urging the withdrawal of at least some U.S. troops in private, the same McConnell was condemning Democrats publicly for the taking the exact same position. “Whether they call it ‘redeployment’ or ‘phased withdrawal,’ the effect is the same,” McConnell said at the time. “We would leave Americans more vulnerable and Iraqis at the mercy of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group whose aim — toward Iraqis and Americans — is clear.”
In other words, when playing for the cameras, McConnell believed bringing troops home was dangerous and irresponsible. When talking in private, McConnell believed bringing troops home might help Republicans win elections.
This is obviously an example of hypocrisy, but I’d suggest it’s even worse than that — McConnell didn’t just say one thing in public and the opposite in private, he seems to have made a request to Bush as if the midterm elections were more important than American national security interests (as he saw them at the time).
Now, it’s certainly possible that Bush’s account is wrong. It’s not like the former president has a track record of accuracy and honesty, and in this anecdote, Bush clearly characterizes himself as the principled, honorable leader.
But I do hope someone asks McConnell to respond, because if the story’s true, it tells us quite a bit about his character, and what Democrats should expect when dealing with him behind closed doors.