Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Ditch Mitch

Sen. Mtch McConnell.jpg

Many people who watched Wednesday and Thursday night’s Democratic “debate” (put in quotation marks because it was not, by definition a debate) noted that the first night did not contain a single reference to the POTUS, and that neither night contained a single mention of Israel.. Conservative commentators and garden variety Trumpeters quickly concluded that the first-night gathering didn’t mention their idol because all the Democrats are afraid of him, and that Israel was never brought up because the Democrats are anti-Semitic Israel haters. What they failed to mention - and what a lot of people watching did not notice - were the dozens of negative references to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). From the number of times Mitch was mentioned, one might assume that the 2020 election is first and foremost a race to replace the 77-year old “Senator No.”

Hmmm . . . not such a bad idea, come to think of it. For more than anyone on Capitol Hill, the Kentucky senator is the living, breathing embodiment of the Trump agenda - or lack thereof. To the best of his ability, he spinelessly - and silently - puts up with whatever canal water spews forth from his boss, and refuses with every fiber of his being to allow anything passed by the Democratic-led House to get an airing in the upper chamber. Four years before he became Majority Leader, “Senator No” told members of the Heritage Foundation in no uncertain terms that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And although he failed in that mission, once he was sworn in as Majority Leader (Jan. 3, 2015), he did everything in his power to put an enormous blockade in the way of anything Obama wanted to do . . . up to and including refusing so much as a hearing for Merritt Garland, Obama’s pick for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. McConnell’s rationale?The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”

If one reads between the lines here, what McConnell is really saying is that no “lame duck” president should have the right to nominate a Supreme Court Justice - and especially in an election year. I wonder how that would work for Mitch if the boot were on the other foot; that the lame duck president would be a Republican and the Senate controlled by Democrats. McConnell’s knowledge and understanding of what the Constitution has to say about the separation of powers and what are and are not presidential prerogatives is not that lame; he is a smart man. However, more than that, he is a vicious, take-no-prisoners partisan Republican. Surely he must know that American history is replete with Presidents making Supreme Court nominations during their last year or so - 19 to be precise. (Hauntingly, two of those lame duck nominations - both of whom were elevated on the court - were Jews who would go on to be among the giants of the SCOTUS: Louis D. Brandeis (nominated by Woodrow Wilson) and Benjamin Cardozo (nominated by Herbert Hoover).

It has long been as clear as mother’s milk that one of 45’s major aims has been to erase virtually everything Barack Obama ever accomplished during his eight years in office . . . or short of that, take credit for those things he cannot destroy. To achieve this despicable goal, Boss Tweet needed a trained seal in the Senate. He found him, of course, in Mitch McConnell. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the president found a spot for the Majority Leader’s wife Elaine Chao in his cabinet (she’s Secretary of Transportation), and a high-ranking job as head of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) for the Majority Leader’s brother-in-law, Gordon Hartogensis. (The PBGC is an independent agency created by Congress in 1974 to essentially pay out pension benefits to workers if their private pension funds fail. Hartogensis is married to Grace Chao, Secretary Elaine Chao’s younger sister.). Ain’t that cozy?

Increasingly, the hyper-partisan McConnell is being seen for what he truly is: a corrupt obstructionist who, for whatever reason he has chosen, has become 45’s lapdog. And while Democrats are making him a central figure in their push to take back the Senate in 2020, there are quite a few Republicans across the country - including his home state, Kentucky - who don’t think too highly of him either. According to one Democratic strategist, Matt Canter, a pollster at Global Strategy Group, “McConnell is a transcendent figure in American politics; he is a unifier. He unites everyone in hatred and animosity toward him, including Republicans. He’s a walking, talking definition of what people hate about Washington and the corrupt political system today.”

Seen in this strategic light, is it any wonder that Senator McConnell was so roundly attacked this past Wednesday and Thursday on MSNBC? Nationally, Democrats are already up and running with a website - “Ditch Mitch” - who’s aim is to defeat McConnell in his bid for a 7th six-year term. For Democrats, of course, taking back the Senate is just as important - if not more so - than defeating ‘45 or holding on to the House of Representatives. Today, Republicans hold a 53-47 edge over the Democrats in the Senate. However, there are 22 Republicans up for reelection as compared to a mere 12 Democrats. In recent polling, Democrats hold a slim 3% lead in swing states. However, being exposed to messaging about McConnell, that lead grew to 12 points. In other words, the “Ditch Mitch” movement is beginning to resonate with voters.

McConnell’s approval rating among swing-state voters in the survey is just 26%, with 50% viewing him unfavorably. Among independents, just 18% view him favorably, and 58% have a negative opinion. In counties that swung from former President Barack Obama to President Trump, his approval rating is 25%, while 53% have a negative opinion.Three highly touted Democratic Senate candidates ― Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield, Texas’ M.J. Hegar and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon ― all focus on McConnell’s influence in their campaign launch videos; they barely mention the president. Hegar refers to her potential opponent, Sen. John Cornyn, as “that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video.”

Then there’s Kentucky, where no one has officially thrown their hat into the ring to challenge Mitch McConnell. Those in the know believe his challenger will wind up being former Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath, who narrowly (51%-47.8%) lost a 2018 congressional race to a 3-term incumbent in a district which Boss Tweet won by more than 16 points in 2016. McConnell has the absolute highest disapproval rating in the country (50%) and scores even worse in his home state. Twenty-two senators can boast of an approval rating 50 percent or above, but McConnell is the only senator with at least half his own constituents rating him unfavorably. This is, of course, not a good sign for the Majority Leader. Indeed, he has become a great unite.

For anyone interested in helping Amy McGrath decide to run against “the Grim Reaper” (that’s the nickname he recently gave himself) check out her Facebook page or the website supporting her putative candidacy.

Defeating Donald Trump is critical. No question. But recapturing the United States Senate and exiling Mitch McConnell is likely of even greater significance.

494 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone