It was hard not to feel a bit sorry for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the Republican primary drew to a close in Alabama last week to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate.
The establishment candidate Luther Strange had received the endorsement of President Donald Trump, and despite some hedging and hesitation Trump did come out to stage a rally for his loyal supporter. But perhaps more importantly, Strange was also the recipient of heavy fundraising help from Mitch McConnell, who did not want to see the cantankerous and extremist Roy Moore as the GOP nominee.
For his part, twice sanctioned judge Roy Moore ran an explicitly anti-establishment campaign directed against essentially the entire Republican apparatus, including and especially Mitch McConnell. This is in turn created a bizarre dynamic showing the policy-free attitude-focused circus that has become internal Republican politics. Despite virtually no policy differences between Moore and Strange, Moore managed to use his trademark rudeness and disrespect for constitutional principles to align himself perceptually with Trump, making him the darling of the President’s angry and revanchist MAGA base. In spite of Trump’s endorsement, Strange became aligned with what is increasingly known in GOP circles as the stuffier McConnell wing, and suffered badly for it.
Moore’s crushing victory over Strange is widely seen, then, as a major defeat for McConnell and a signal to each and every establishment Republican in Congress that challenges from the extreme right may be in the cards if they don’t demonstrate full commitment to a Christianist white supremacist crusade, and explicit hostility to the norms of American democracy. McConnell’s own future as Senate Majority Leader is seriously in doubt.
The irony of all this is that the Trump wing of the party still hasn’t actually achieved any results. Insofar as all conservatives care about anymore is the nihilistic joy in “triggering” liberals and people of common decency with superficial outrages, Trump has already delivered in spades. And maybe that’s all that matters, at least for now. But to survive, politicians eventually have to deliver real results–and Trump has precious few to show.
Instead, the only tangible, lasting achievement of the Trump Administration is the installation of right-wing extremist Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. But, of course, that was none of Trump’s doing. The blatant theft of that Supreme Court seat from President Obama was entirely Mitch McConnell’s doing. It was McConnell who made the call to permanently break the Senate and nomination process to defy tradition and hold open the seat, thus ensuring him a spot in the rogue’s gallery of America’s great historical villains.
That Republicans got as close as a single McCain vote from repealing the Affordable Care Act was none of Donald Trump’s doing. It was McConnell who navigated a tightrope over a chasm of negative public opinion on the unicycle of a slim 52-vote Senate majority, juggling an astonishing series of lies, deceptions and bribes to try to make the impossible dangerously close to reality. Trump was if anything an impediment.
But for all his service in the devil’s workshop, McConnell gets no love from the keepers of America’s baser instincts. Because McConnell doesn’t beat his chest, shout racist slogans, bodyslam reporters and otherwise show his commitment to violently making America safe for angry racist white people, the MAGA base feels safe in mocking one of their only productive legislator’s mild-mannered demeanor.
That’s all the better for the country. While the Republican base cheers the triggering outrages from clowns like Moore and Trump, Democrats will be more than happy to run out the legislative clock until 2018 and 2020 against a weakened McConnell, justly betrayed by those he spent his life serving.