Reliable Never Trumper Jeff Flake appears to be saying aloud what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is planning behind the scenes. Flake is a former Arizona Republican senator who has worked as a political commentator for CBS and endorsed Joe Biden for president since leaving the upper chamber in 2019. Despite this, he is still anointed a “conservative” by dominant media outlets.
‘My Fellow Republicans’
Flake again displayed the authenticity of his conservatism by penning a Feb. 15 op-ed for CNN in which he urged the Republican Party to “move on” from former President Donald Trump:
“We didn’t convict him. We should have, but we didn’t. Let’s not compound the grievous injury to the country and our party by continuing to embrace him, for Trumpism is the opposite of conservatism … There is nothing to gain by making a pilgrimage to Florida. There is no enlightened mystic at Mar-a-Lago – just a diminished man who lost an election and couldn’t accept it.”
Flake resorts to addressing readers as “my fellow Republicans” while preening on his CNN platform. In this regard, he serves as an apt metaphor for McConnell. In the Senate party leader’s case, the platform is the Capitol Hill Swamp from which McConnell will labor to pull the party away from Trump’s America First populist nationalism.
Numbers don’t lie. Trump was still earning 90% favorability ratings among GOP voters in January. Congress’ approval numbers have been stuck around 15% for years. This begs the question: Just what is McConnell leading?
Flagrantly False Appeal
“My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November,” McConnell told Politico in a phone interview, discussing the already looming 2022 midterm elections. “Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.”
This is easily disproven. Had McConnell been motivated only by victory, he never would have foisted appointed Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), arguably two of the worst candidates running for office in 2020, upon GOP voters.
McConnell was warned of McSally’s shortcomings yet still pressured Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey to select her to fill a Senate vacancy after her defeat by Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in 2018. Erich Lach, writing for the New Yorker and no friend of Trump, wrote at the time:
“[McSally] was the preferred pick of the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. And yet Ducey, a cautious politician fresh off an easy re-election victory, appeared to waver. There was talk of unhappiness with McSally among Arizona donors. She had to contend with the stigma of defeat …
“’You can see the dilemma he was in,’ Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general and [John] McCain aide, told me … speaking of Ducey. ‘He was getting major pressure from Washington. And yet he knew what was going on, on the ground here.’
“Ducey named McSally to the job. McConnell got who he wanted. But did Arizona? … [I]n the state the talk turned immediately to whether she’d be able to hold the seat.”
She could not. McSally performed the remarkable task of losing both U.S. Senate seats in a span of two years in a state that had not elected a Democratic senator since the 1980s.
Loeffler was an equally woeful pick. Wife of the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, the political neophyte had as much in common with Trump-supporting Georgians as Hillary Clinton does with West Virginia coal miners. Trump “was pushing for Rep. Doug Collins [R-GA] and conservative groups lambasted Loeffler as wobbly on social issues,” Politico reported in December 2019 as Governor Brian Kemp tabbed her to fill a Senate vacancy.
McConnell was ecstatic:
“It seems to me like the governor of Georgia made a terrific appointment … She will be an incumbent Republican senator. We will all be behind her … I’m going to be behind her, and I’m confident that someone we’re working with every day will enjoy total support from the Republican conference.”
This unearned incumbency allowed Loeffler to emerge from a multi-candidate special election on Nov. 3 only to lose the runoff to radical progressive Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock on Jan. 5.
McConnell’s machinations cost the GOP the Senate. Yet here he stands on his rickety Potomac perch as Swamp critter colleagues crown him. “To the degree that there’s a titular leader for the party,” it’s McConnell, Senator John Thune (R-SD) told Politico.
“I don’t know what happens to the party as a whole in terms of the folks deeply committed to President Trump,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said. “But I hope they stick with us.”
There appears little reason to. One glance at Arizona’s Blue Two in the Senate should be enough to stave off this “my fellow Republicans” siren song.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.