What Mitch Made

#unprincipledleadership | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

There is the saying about how we Americans will get around to doing the right thing eventually; it is usually a begrudging concession, that we have no remaining alternatives or excuses. Perhaps a better way of looking at it is that, generally speaking, we do not actually intend the harm we cause. Or maybe not; at some point, pleading stupidity over and over again is the sort of ritual that breeds resentment. Among Americans. Toward everyone else. Because how dare you say you’re smarter than we are every time we say how were we supposed to know.

Or, y’know … something like that.

Oh, hey, Steve Benen, ladies and gentlemen:

The Timesarticle added that McConnell has privately marveled at Trump’s unwillingness “to learn the basics of governing.” The Senate GOP leader has also “expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed.”

McConnell’s concerns are obviously grounded in fact, and on the surface, it’s tempting to feel some sympathy for him. But it’s important not to lose sight of the senator’s role in making the mess he finds himself in the middle of.

Like Dr. Frankenstein, McConnell created a monster he thought he could control, only to discover he doesn’t care for the results.

His quiet, unassuming demeanor notwithstanding, Mitch McConnell has spent many years taking a sledgehammer to American political norms. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank argued persuasively in April that the Kentucky Republican effectively “broke America.” The columnist added, “No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership”.

Call it a seven-year itch:

Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.

But in the short run at least, his approach has worked. For more than a year, he pleaded and cajoled to keep his caucus in line. He deployed poll data. He warned against the lure of the short-term attention to be gained by going bipartisan, and linked Republican gains in November to showing voters they could hold the line against big government.

Looking back those seven years, Hulse and Nagourney seem to have identified the important component; this is, indeed, how the Senate Majority leader won his majority, and helped raise a Republican government oriented toward the principle that government does not, cannot, and should not work. The long term of today will stand as the middle term for tomorrow; the effort to “deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation” did work in the short run, and so well that conservative obstructionists eventually wrecked Speaker Boehner.

The only real question about the Frankenstein metaphor is whether or not McConnell ever really gave a damn about whether or not he could control his creation before it threatened to consume him. To the other, perspective being to the eye of the beholder, we might wonder how many times, in the Senate Majority Leader’s opinion, he really felt such heat, or, you know, maybe between the summers in Bluegrass or Potomac territory the better question was if the air conditioning worked and whose job it is to call for service. Mr. McConnell is the senior U.S. Senator from Kentucky; he will be more concerned with challenges from his right flank.

And, you know, how was he supposed to know? All he ever did was cultivate it. All he ever did was labor mightily to raise it to the presidency. How could he possibly have foreseen the dysfunctional results of elevating the expectation and intention—a culture—of dysfunction?


Image note: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “Dr. Frankenstein didn’t like his creation, either”. msnbc. 23 August 2017.

Burns, Alexander and Jonathan Martin. “McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency”. The New York Times. 22 August 2010.

Hulse, Carl and Adam Nagourney. “Senate G.O.P. Leader Finds Weapon in Unity”. The New York Times. 16 March 2017.

Milbank, Dana. “Mitch McConnell, the man who broke America”. 7 April 2017.

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