Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell enters the nation’s political history books this week as the longest reigning Republican leader in U.S. Senate history. Thus, the question arises, is McConnell’s tenure one of greatness or ignominious distinction? After all, long doesn’t always mean effective. If you go long and drop the pass, you’ve come up with nothing. And that seems to be the crux of the matter for Senator McConnell.
The Kentucky legislator’s mere presence is an odd one to be sure. He has zero charisma, a dour countenance and an image that looks for all the world like a gloomy caricature rather than a human being. He intuitively must know this which is perhaps why he referred to himself at a news conference years ago as “Darth Vader.”
Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. can be likened to the old Slim Jim ad: you either love him or hate him. “Democrats deride him as the man who set fire to the Senate and wants credit for calling the fire department, only to now serve as an enabler of President Trump,” writes Jonathan Swann of Axios. But The Washington Post quotes staunch Republicans like Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia, who find McConnell less than desirable:
“Mitch McConnell’s going to go to the wire because he is vehement about not standing for anything. And he has a good long track record about not standing for much other than keeping the campaign dollars flowing. And that is not inspiring to ordinary Americans, to conservatives, even to base Republicans.”
When the left and the right both find fault, you can bet there is reason for pause. If anything, Mr. McConnell has slowed the gears of legislation to a grinding halt and was best known as Obstructionist-in-Chief during the Obama years.
The U.S. Constitution is actually set up for a slow, deliberate pace. Our system of checks and balances mean that the wheels of legislation turn gradually and methodically. But McConnell’s foes in Louisville complain that the Senate Majority leader is often “sleepy and underwhelming.”
No Middle Ground for Mitch
Die-hard conservatives see Mitch as a vile element of the establishment wing of the Republican party: standing for nothing and falling for everything. He is a study in paradoxes and inconsistencies – never really loved, often despised but continually re-elected.
Politico Magazine points out that he has been, “likened to everything from a warmed-over vanilla milkshake to ‘a man with the natural charisma of an oyster.’” Whatever your political leanings one must admit that McConnell is a skilled tactician and strategist when it comes to politics.
Perhaps his best conservative stand was when he refused to bring U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland forward – holding him in limbo for 294 days – effectively blocking his appointment to the high court. That paved the way for President Trump to nominate Neil Gorsuch with the Kentucky Republican using a simple Senate majority to clear the way for Gorsuch to be approved by using the so-called “nuclear option.” Using everything in his power with stealth and assorted maneuvers, McConnell got the job done. And it just may be that this was his high point.
Such as it is, Kentucky is beginning to sour on their disconsolate Senator. From his right flank he faces conservatives unhappy with his performance thus far, while the Democrats sharpen their knives to cut him down from his high perch.
So, while Mitch McConnell has survived many a battle in his day, his longevity in no way signals his imminent departure. If you are not already reconciled to his leadership, it might be best to simply accept the reality, for better or worse, that he is not likely to leave the upper chamber anytime soon.