Thursday, February 29, 2024

Goodbye, Cocaine Mitch

 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced yesterday that he will be stepping down from the Republican leadership in November. McConnell, who is the longest-serving Senate leader, suggested that he will remain in Congress until his term ends in January 2026. Although a very effective leader, McConnell is hated by the MAGA right as well as the progressive left.

McConnell, 82, arrived in the Senate in 1985 having previously been a judge in Jefferson County, Kentucky. He rose to the top-ranking Republican position in 2007 and has served as both majority and minority leader at various times, depending on Republican fortunes.

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McConnell leaves his post with a mixed record. He has been very effective at pushing Republican priorities through the Senate, which hasn’t always been the best thing for the country. Donald Trump’s legislative legacy was not extensive, but where The Former Guy made permanent legislative gains, a lot of the credit goes to McConnell for ramming these bills through the Senate.

When I think of McConnell’s legacy, five things come immediately to mind. The first two are turtles and “Cocaine Mitch.” The turtle reference has to do with a series of memes that purport to show how McConnell resembles a cartoon turtle while “Cocaine Mitch” was a failed attempt at mudslinging by one of McConnell’s primary opponents. That’s just how I think.

But seriously, McConnell does make me think of the filibuster. McConnell invoked the nuclear option for Supreme Court justices following Harry Reid’s removal of the filibuster for lower court judges and executive branch appointments, but McConnell has otherwise been a staunch defender of the legislative filibuster despite factions in both parties that want to kill the rule that causes so many bills to die in the Senate. I think that McConnell realizes that the short-term gains from nuking the filibuster would be more than offset by chaos as the country veered from hard right to hard left and back again.

I think of the filibuster as a speed brake that slows down radical legislation and prevents one-party tyranny by the majority. It also encourages compromises between the two parties to meet the 60-vote threshold. This hasn’t worked so well in recent years as both sides have come to eschew compromises as traitorous and focus on executive actions as the way to move the ball toward the goal line (or at least try to look like they are doing something).

I also think of judges. McConnell was able to push through 226 judges during Donald Trump’s term alone. The appointment of so many constitutionalist judges is easily the best part of Trump’s presidency, and I’ll note that many of these same appointees did a lot to rein in Trump and prevent his January 6 plot from coming to fruition.

The same can’t be said of Mitch McConnell. The last thing that I think of is McConnell’s fecklessness in the post-election days of 2020 and Donald Trump’s two impeachments. I believe that history will judge McConnell (and many other Republicans) harshly for not holding Trump accountable for his many excesses and for not disqualifying Trump from holding future office through the impeachment process.

McConnell let Trump run amok after losing in 2020 and ultimately voted for acquittal even though he acknowledged that TFG provoked the January 6 mob. Still, McConnell is rumored to be considering endorsing Trump in his current campaign. If so, McConnell’s position that Trump is bad and should still be president is par for the course for Republican partisans.

Over the years, Mitch McConnell did a lot to advance a conservative agenda. Judges and tax reform are two of his successes, but his failures are numerous. The battle to reform Obamacare went dormant during the Trump Administration after years are demagoguing and the immigration system is just as broken as it was when he took over the leadership with reform repeatedly killed by right-wing hardliners. In recent years, McConnell has been one of Ukraine’s few Republican friends.

In the end, McConnell was a partisan to the core. He was a conservative but was unable to steer the party back to a conservative course when it veered off into Trumpian populism. When that happened, Mitch went along for the ride, occasionally applying the brakes when it was politically feasible to do so.

McConnell’s announcement leads to two questions Why now and who’s next?

As to the first question, McConnell is 82, a year older than Joe Biden, and has had recent health problems. About a year ago, the senator was treated for a concussion and a broken rib after a fall. More recently, last fall, there were two public episodes in which he froze and was unable to speak while addressing reporters.

Beyond his health, McConnell must realize, as Nikki Haley has, that the Republican Party of today is not the same as it was 10 years ago. This is a Trumpian party with no room for principled conservatives. And when the party faces another electoral disaster this fall, it still isn’t clear that Republicans will reject MAGA and embrace the old-guard conservatives once again.

The second question is more difficult to answer, but recent history has taught us that when leading Republicans are replaced, it is usually by someone worse. It would be hard to find a leader as capable as McConnell even if the party was united, and it isn’t.

John Thune (R-SD) is the minority whip and an obvious choice. Wyoming’s John Barrasso is currently the third-ranking Republican and has embraced some fringe candidates such as Kari Lake in Arizona. John Cornyn of Texas is another possibility, but he is hated by many on the far right as a RINO. Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas are both very ambitious but less likely to be taken seriously by their colleagues.

A lot of people will be celebrating Mitch McConnell’s departure, but I wouldn’t be so quick to cheer. These days, the watchword should be that it can always get worse. Both Republicans and Democrats might be missing Cocaine Mitch before too long.

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SCOTUS TO HEAR POTUS IMMUNITY: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case on whether Donald Trump has presidential immunity for criminal acts in which he might have engaged as president. The case is related to the January 6 charges against Trump. Arguments will be heard on April 22 and the case will not go to trial until the Court rules on the question. This means that the January 6 case will almost certainly not go to trial until after the election, even though I think it likely that the Court will slap down Trump’s claims of “complete and total immunity.”

From the Racket News

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