Anyone who’s taken part in a competitive endeavor, be it building a business, or playing in a little league baseball game, a high school volleyball match or the upcoming Super Bowl – understands that not much can be accomplished without capable leadership.
In any such event, there’s got to be someone who the “players” trust to remain steady when the action gets tough. Leaders don’t back down; they certainly don’t surrender and definitely don’t ever “cave” without a thoroughly pressed fight. And, just as with everything else in life, winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.
In American politics, there’s no consolation prize for second place, and being an accommodating nice guy or gal won’t necessarily earn you anything other than a “Congeniality” award from the establishment media. That’s why it’s evident that a growing contingent of conservative Republican senators are fed up with the lack of a stalwart spine from their leader, Mitch McConnell.
Some head into a budget-related confrontation with the always nearly united Democrats believing that McConnell will basically capitulate before the real talks even start. One in particular spoke out this week.
“[Florida Senator Rick] Scott said he’s not giving up his effort to cut federal spending and that he’s willing to clash with McConnell again over the debt limit, which has already expired, forcing the Treasury Department to use ‘extraordinary measures’ to make payments. ‘I’m not going to back down,’ Scott told The Hill during an interview in his Capitol office after McConnell decided to remove the Florida senator from the powerful Commerce Committee, a move that conservatives viewed as fallout from the November leadership race, which Scott lost 37-10...
“McConnell said in 2021 that he struck a deal with Schumer to let Democrats raise the debt ceiling with votes from their conference because he wanted them to take full responsibility for expanding borrowing authority — although 10 Republican votes were needed to create the procedural loophole.
“’I took an amendment vote [in] April to the conference, we adopted it and then … the leader caved,’ Scott told The Hill, noting that the Senate GOP conference had agreed unanimously that ‘we were going to cut cost or we were going to have structural change’ in exchange for raising the debt limit.”
Of course, in the end, due to McConnell’s duplicitous lack of a spine, we got neither spending cuts nor structural change. Thanks, Mitch. Democrats then raised the debt limit on their own and probably not a soul remembered anything about it at election time. The Kentucky establishmentarian always plans his strategy based on political considerations and refuses to get down and dirty in the public’s eye because he’s perpetually afraid of being punished in the next election.
Such electoral censure never happens, either. Democrats don’t care about the debt limit. At all – except to increase it. And the average persuadable voter doesn’t care about it much either. So Mitch’s moves are always based on a false assumption, namely, that putting up a major fight and calling the Democrats’ bluff on a government shutdown is a loser politically for Republicans.
Beyond just government spending, McConnell is always on the defensive. He reminds me of General Robert E. Lee in the final phases of the Civil War. Finding his forces vastly depleted after the disastrous Gettysburg campaign in July of 1863, Lee retreated into defensive positions to try and keep his army intact in 1864. The Union’s new commander in the eastern theater, General Ulysses S. Grant, however, figured that the South could not sustain any kind of prolonged offensive movement and set out to eliminate Lee’s army and willingness to fight through attrition rather than waging further possibly fruitless attempts to directly capture the Confederate Capital at Richmond, Virginia.
As a result, Grant kept marching on the flank, Lee kept retreating and setting up new defensive barriers, hoping the Union would make a mistake – or give up like they had before. Eventually, the vastly outnumbered Confederate force was stretched so thin from attrition and lack of reinforcement that the southerners abandoned their capital. It took Grant less than a year to accomplish what every other Union commander had failed to do – take Richmond.
Similar to Lee, Mitch McConnell keeps retreating, retrenching and being defeated piecemeal, because “Chucky” Schumer is constantly on offense and isn’t bothered by what some would describe as public relations casualties. Aided by the biased establishment media – and the big spending establishment wing of the GOP – “Chucky” knows McConnell won’t fight over the debt ceiling. And therein lies the problem for combatants like Rick Scott.
Senators like Scott are tired of losing. They’re sick of doing battle, gaining what looks like an upper hand and then being stabbed in the back by their own leader’s behind-the-scenes “negotiations”. “Caving” is what McConnell does best. If Mitch would only display the same resolve he showed during the Trump Supreme Court nominee confirmation hearings, Republicans might actually make headway on reducing government spending, too.
The onus of the problem seems to be McConnell himself.
No one I know has much respect for Mitch McConnell, let alone his leadership tactics. In this, we’re not alone, as the turtle-like career pol from Kentucky is rated as the least popular politician in Washington today, with a paltry favorable rating of 18.8 percent and an unfavorable mark of 53.4. For those math-challenged individuals, Mitch is therefore underwater by 34.6 percent. Poor ol’ Mitch is so far below the surface that even a determined kick and freedom from his leg irons wouldn’t earn him a fresh breath of air.
By contrast, Joe Biden’s Favorable/Unfavorable (again, according to Real Clear Politics) is 42.0/52.9, Donald Trump’s is 39.0/55.4 and the unofficial holder of America’s worst politician title, cackling Kamala Harris, comes in at 37.8/52.2, meaning McConnell’s poll numbers trail even the headliners by more than 17 percent. (Note: I’m not sure how Harris got that high, but it must be because she’s been hiding from public view lately.)
To be recognized by seventy-five percent of poll participants, as McConnell apparently is, and still only have less than one in five like what you’re doing is pretty startling. The new House Minority Leader, New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, for instance, has only a 21.8 percent approval rating, but his unfavorable is just 21 percent. Less than half the people even know who Hakeem is, yet he’s still got more folks’ approval than Cocaine Mitch. Sad? Pathetic? Disqualifying?
I’m not a psychologist, but shouldn’t these numbers signal to McConnell that he ought to do something different to help himself? Heck, when a high percentage of your own party members don’t like your job performance, it’s time to change. Didn’t Mitch notoriously bicker back-and-forth with former president Trump all those times to prove how bipartisan and objective he is in his assessments of people? Didn’t McConnell publicly blame Trump for the January 6th tourism riot? Didn’t he almost vote “yes” on impeachment the second time only to realize that if he did, he’d better not show his face again in his conservative home state?
I’d wager that McConnell and Liz Cheney are bosom pals. They’re both neoconservatives, both openly hate Trump and both don’t give a hoot what conservatives and Republicans think of ‘em. That’s not leadership, that’s antipathy.
Mitch doesn’t deserve much sympathy for his hapless plight – after all, he did it to himself – but is there a way he could make progress on building up his popularity numbers?
Here’s thinking it wouldn’t be long for McConnell to win back some goodwill by borrowing a page from the new Republican House majority’s book and taking a hard stance behind the conservative issue platform and refusing to budge, employing all the procedural tricks at his disposal. That’s the opposite of “caving”, isn’t it?
With the lower chamber in Republican hands, the chances of anything truly damaging passing this term is fairly unlikely as long as GOP leaders resolve to quit looking for “bipartisan” opportunities and simply wage the war for public opinion ahead of the crucial 2024 presidential election. Chances are McConnell will either be facing the return of Donald Trump, the ascendence of Ron DeSantis or another few years dedicated to listening to Democrats drone on from the White House.
Conservatives can also hope that the conservative faction in the senate gains in numbers and possibly kick McConnell to the side – or to simply elect a trove of new conservatives in the states, though this alternative seems unlikely.
The truth is Mitch McConnell – or any political leader – won’t leave until he is beaten. Conservatives like Sen. Rick Scott need grassroots support to make the types of reforms he proposes on the debt ceiling or budgeting – or any item on the conservative agenda. An old saying goes you “can’t lead from behind”. It’s about time conservatives took it to heart.
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