Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is making a play for another term in leadership next week while control of the upper chamber remains in the balance after the Kentucky lawmaker’s chess game sabotaged chances for a GOP majority.
In September, McConnell inaugurated the fall midterms by undermining Republicans in key races when the GOP Senate chief complained of “candidate quality.”
“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” McConnell said on Fox News just before Labor Day, the unofficial start of the fall campaign season. “Senate races are just different, they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
McConnell’s Money Prioritized Allies, Not Majority
McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, went on to gut desperately needed campaign cash from conservative candidates in Arizona and New Hampshire who refused to kiss the ring of Washington monarchs. In Arizona, McConnell axed $18 million from the race where Republican venture capitalist Blake Masters sought to bring down a well-funded Democrat incumbent. While the Masters race remains too close to call, Gen. Don Bolduc in New Hampshire was comfortably defeated by Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan, who captured a second term despite multiple polls showing the Republican within the margins of error. Bolduc was similarly abandoned by the GOP leader with $5.6 million cut from the contest. Both Bolduc and Masters signaled support for another candidate to lead the Senate conference if elected to the upper chamber.
McConnell took money from the competitive pick-up contests and redirected resources into Alaska and Colorado, the former featuring a race between two Republicans and the latter featuring a candidate who alienated the base. Alienating the base, however, has become routine practice for McConnell, who boasts a lower favorability rating than President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In other words, McConnell is the most unpopular politician in the country, a fact Democrats used to their advantage in this election cycle by villainizing McConnell as the new GOP “boogeyman.”
It wasn’t just former President Donald Trump that Democrats ran against, it was McConnell, and McConnell ran just as hard against Republicans who threatened his perch in leadership.
In Alaska, McConnell’s PAC spent more than $6 million to boost Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski over the state party’s endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka. The spending that could have benefitted tight races to pick up seats in Arizona and New Hampshire instead earned McConnell a formal censure by the Alaska Republican Party for the Senate leader’s intraparty interference. Meanwhile in Colorado, Republican construction executive Joe O’Dea, who benefitted from $1.25 million of McConnell’s money, lost by 11 points with 88 percent of precincts reporting.
McConnell Surrendered to the Biden Agenda
While Republicans ran on a platform hammering crime and inflation with few specifics, McConnell handed Democrats major wins during President Joe Biden’s first two years in office. In August, Federalist Senior Contributor Chris Jacobs outlined “3 Big Blunders Showing Mitch McConnell Isn’t The Legislative Genius He Thinks He Is.” McConnell capitulated to Democrats on raising the debt limit, passed a colossal infrastructure package with items that have nothing to do with infrastructure, and shepherded the CHIPS Act corrupted by corporate special interests.
“For someone held up as a legislative genius/strategical mastermind, Mitch McConnell sure has had a run of clunkers lately,” Jacobs wrote this past summer. “In reality, Schumer has out-maneuvered McConnell on most of the important legislative packages during the 117th Congress.”
McConnell also worked with Democrats to secure passage of gun control legislation in June littered with vague language about “dating partners” and red flag laws.
McConnell’s Legacy on Judges Usurped by Schumer
McConnell’s defenders in the upper chamber often highlight the Senate leader’s strategic wins fundamentally transforming the judiciary as his legacy. After all, it was under McConnell that now-Attorney General Merrick Garland’s 2016 Supreme Court nomination was thwarted and ultimately replaced by Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch was confirmed in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, followed by the confirmation of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, all under McConnell’s leadership steering the upper chamber in election years. Justice Barrett’s confirmation came within weeks of President Biden’s White House ascension. In June, the new conservative majority on the nation’s highest bench overturned the five-decade precedent inventing a so-called right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, marking a generational achievement for the conservative movement.
On the sidelines of a campaign event in Arizona last weekend, GOP Montana Sen. Steve Daines praised McConnell’s leadership for paving the way to place the judiciary on the ballot in 2016.
“I look back in the masterful way Mitch McConnell navigated through the Merrick Garland nomination,” Daines told The Federalist. “By stopping that and waiting for another election was very helpful I think to get President Trump elected with the conservative voters who knew the Supreme Court was at stake.”
While McConnell’s legacy on judges is one that conservatives can celebrate, the Senate leader is on the verge of being usurped by the successes of Democrats’ two years in power.
“With the longest evenly divided Senate still going, Biden and Schumer have already set a torrid judicial appointment pace,” Politico reported in October, “basically tying Trump and McConnell’s first two years controlling the machinery at 84 total lifetime judicial confirmations, albeit one less Supreme Court justice.”
McConnell also remains far from the only Republican in the upper chamber capable of confirming judges.
An Opportunity For New Leadership
Next week, Senate Republicans will either vote to reelect McConnell and maintain the status quo in Washington or opt for new leadership with a pulse on the conservative movement and some actual respect for the Republican voter. No rival candidates have announced plans to challenge McConnell, but Florida Sen. Rick Scott stands out as the likely frontrunner should one arise and declined to rule out such a bid.
In September, Scott responded to McConnell’s August remarks about “candidate quality” with an op-ed in the Washington Examiner admonishing the top Republican in the country for efforts to undermine GOP voters.
“Ultimately, though, when you complain and lament that we have ‘bad candidates,’ what you are really saying is that you have contempt for the voters who chose them,” Scott wrote. “Now we are at the heart of the matter. Much of Washington’s chattering class disrespects and secretly (or not so secretly) loathes Republican voters.”
When leaders fail, others should step up. Throughout the midterms, Scott, who chaired the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), stepped up, and spent what resources the NRSC could spare in states abandoned by McConnell. The NRSC dropped nearly $10 million behind Masters in Arizona, more than any other candidate this cycle, and put nearly $3 million behind Bolduc. The funding, however, remained short of the spending axed for each race by the top Republican in the country.