So preparing for his accession to the Senate Majority Leader position, Mitch McConnell is making all the requisite noises about wanting to do things, not just kill things, and govern, not obstruct. And at the Plum Line, Paul Waldman, who typically sees things much as I do, thinks we might even take ol’ Mitch at his word, because (a) the man’s nothing if not soullessly pragmatic, and (b) his party right now needs to look reasonable in order to win the White House in 2016 and then Rule the World.

This goal is not compatible with either the kind of blow-up-the-world extremism congressional GOPers have so frequently let themselves be talked into by the Tea Folk since 2011, or with any sort of genuine and consistent compromise with Obama, either. So:

That leaves the third path, which is what McConnell seems to be hinting at. It involves some of the kinds of futile, angry gestures of the past six years — votes to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act or Obama’s executive actions on immigration — which will make his caucus feel better but would be vetoed. And it includes just enough dealmaking to make Congress look reasonable and keep the government funded. That’s why McConnell mentioned appropriations bills; he’s willing to get a few gifts for Republicans on those (as they got on the recent budget bill), and in return make sure there are no more shutdowns.

The result, he surely hopes, is a Congress in which the tea partyers are satisfied enough, the confrontations that make Republicans look bad are avoided, and everything is geared toward one goal: helping (or more accurately, not hurting) the chances that the GOP nominee will win the White House in 2016. There are other variables at play — the House is less easily managed than the Senate, and Obama will find ways to drive Republicans crazy — but this middle path is the most likely to lead to success.

I basically agree, but would one add one important point: McConnell pretty clearly thinks he can pin the tail on the donkey for “obstruction” by coordinating a lot of reasonable-sounding but unacceptable legislation and then maneuvering Obama into vetoes. When he’s able to muster enough votes for an override, that’s even better, since that makes McConnell the “bipartisan” leader trying to move the country forward against the will of that bitter lame duck in the White House. But more generally, the GOP M.O. will probably be to pass a bushel-basket of legislation that Obama will veto even as he tyrannically imposes his own agenda on the country via Bonapartist executive actions. So right now McConnell is laying the groundwork by impressing upon us his equanimity, which can be seductive even when you know the man is all about the accumulation of sheer power.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.