Fear is a powerful motivator

For all of his many flaws, Mitch McConnell’s candor is occasionally refreshing.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that his fall-back plan for the debt ceiling negotiations would prevent President Obama from blaming Republicans for the economic fallout from a default.

“If we go into default, [the president] will say that Republicans are making the economy worse … The president will have the bully pulpit to blame the Republicans for all of this destruction,” McConnell said, indicating that default would hand the re-election to Obama.

“I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy,” McConnell said.

A more thoughtful argument might have referenced the senator’s desire to do right by the country. Maybe something about the public suffering in the event of a self-imposed economic crash.

But that’s not where the Minority Leader is going with this. Avoiding an economic catastrophe? Whatever. What really matters here is McConnell avoiding blame and electoral consequences for the misguided hostage strategy he and his party never really thought through.

For what it’s worth, McConnell isn’t wrong. If Republicans see the threat and refuse to do their duty, the economy will crash and the GOP will be blamed. I’d prefer to see the senator principally concerned with the public’s wellbeing, but if he’s prepared to end the crisis motivated by nothing but political fear, I guess that will have to do.

That said, McConnell’s comments this morning reinforce a few things. First, the Republicans’ Senate leader doesn’t see a way to reach a debt-reduction agreement. Second, McConnell doesn’t buy into the right-wing nonsense that default would be painless and inconsequential.

And third, the GOP leadership really doesn’t want to get caught shooting the hostage.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.