In recent years, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been hounded and vilified by the right-wing in the GOP base, or at least in certain quadrants of the hard-line conservative blogosphere. What exactly he was supposed to accomplish with a minority in the Senate is never quite clear, but he has managed to unify his caucus, prevent the lion share of the Bush tax cuts from expiring and turn the heat on the Democrats for fiscal irresponsibility.
He’s also outfoxed both the Dems and the right wing of his own party with regard to his own reelection. He formed a powerful bond with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), which will diffuse serious challenge from his right flank. And then he turned the tables on the Dems after a lefty independent group made an issue of his wife’s Chinese ancestry. Then on Tuesday he hit pay dirt, as this report explains, when a tape of a private campaign meeting found its way to the left wing Mother Jones:
“Last week they were attacking my wife’s ethnicity and apparently also bugging my headquarters, much like Nixon and Watergate,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “That’s what the political left does these days.”
If the press conference were an episode of the camp-era “Batman” that’s where the “biff!” titlecard would show up. McConnell had gone from a man on his heels after a recording of an oppo research session on Ashley Judd was published by Mother Jones to the master politician driving the story to his own benefit.
McConnell’s strategy with the tapes, which included calling in the FBI as well as accusing his opponents of illegally bugging his office, has awed Republican political observers.
And that’s not from National Review, but from the center-left Buzzfeed.
And the newly staffed-up National Republican Senate Committee got in its digs, expanding the issue beyond McConnell’s left-wing opponents: Buzzfeed quotes NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring: “It’s part of a continued pattern behavior that reveals why Main Street hates Washington. Whether it’s Senator Menendez using his office to advocate for a high-dollar donor, Leader Reid yucking it up with said donor on a private jet, Senator Baucus using threats and intimidation to push legislation, or now bugs or tapes illegally placed in a Republican campaign office, this ‘law be damned’ mentality has to stop.” Ooof.
McConnell — with a strong assist from the GOP House leadership and unintended help from the White House — has been perfecting the art of making life miserable for Senate Democrats on the ballot in 2014. He forced the Senate to vote on a budget, a monstrously irresponsible tax-and-spend document that will be far to the left of what the president will put out. Senate Dems are going to face nightmarish votes on the president’s anti-gun legislation. They’ll get the opportunity to offer some amendments for cover (i.e. to weaken the bill), but unless Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada decides to water-down the bill, red-state senators will have a choice: back their liberal leaders or save themselves from home-state wrath.
I strongly doubt that McConnell will get a serious challenge in 2014. If he wins big and manages to pick up five colleagues, he’ll be sitting pretty as majority leader, with a crop of new senators loyal to him and a caucus grateful to be back in the majority. For now, however, he’ll be pounding away at his hapless Democratic opposition, forcing Senate Dems to take painful votes and holding the line against foolish grand (or otherwise) bargains and over-reaching anti-gun legislation.