What Will Become of Mitch McConnell? Four Key Questions

I know he won and everything, but…

AP Photo: J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo: J. Scott Applewhite

Can he continue doing what he’s doing and become—and remain—Majority Leader?

I don’t think so.

I hope not.

I hope he has to choose, and I hope he chooses well.

He managed to get the Erick Erickson endorsement (such as it is), and he’s burnished the Tea Party Is Dead Meme, just winning re-election in his home state.


Four questions:

1. Is McConnell using the NRSC as a vetting operation—or a house of retribution?

If it’s a vetting operation it’s not working very well.

Erick Erickson, RedState: Losing Oregon: Does the NRSC Vet Its Candidates?

I think the NRSC would much prefer beating up conservatives in 2014 than win the Senate. The NRSC has spent so much time and money attacking conservatives and running smear and whisper campaigns about them, we now have another candidate they did not vet.

We have lost Oregon with Monica Wehby. She seemed to be a good candidate with a great ad that neutralized her pro-choice positions. She was impressive. In fact, with a mail in election, Monica Wehby is going to be the GOP’s nominee in Oregon.

Matt Lewis, Daily Caller: Monica Wehby’s Weird Past: Does The NRSC Even ‘Vet’ Candidates?

The hits keep on coming for GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby. As Politico reports, the Oregon Republican was “accused by her ex-boyfriend last year of ‘stalking’ him, entering his home without his permission and ‘harassing’ his employees, according to a Portland, Oregon police report.”

Wehby is seen as the establishment choice, which is ironic inasmuch as the establishment has been known to complain about unvetted tea party candidates.

It’s also interesting when one considers that this ”stalking” charge is merely the latest utterly weird revelation to emerge about Wehby.

Personally, I think it’s a house of retribution.

Carl Hulse, New York Times: Leading Republicans Move to Stamp Out Challenges From Right

This election season, Republicans led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are taking a much harder line as they sense the majority within reach. Top congressional Republicans and their allies are challenging the advocacy groups head on in an aggressive effort to undermine their credibility. The goal is to deny them any Senate primary victories, cut into their fund-raising and diminish them as a future force in Republican politics.

“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” Mr. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said in an interview, referring to the network of activist organizations working against him and two Republican incumbents in Kansas and Mississippi while engaging in a handful of other contests. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”

Jonathan Strong, National Review Online: Collateral Damage in a GOP Civil War —

Nebraska candidate Ben Sasse runs afoul of Mitch McConnell

On Tuesday, November 12, Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse walked into Mitch McConnell’s office to clear the air. Contrary to the rumors, Sasse wanted to say, he hadn’t secretly vowed to oppose McConnell’s leadership if elected. In fact, he hadn’t been asked to make such a pledge and would never have even considered it.

That was the plan, anyway.

As soon as Sasse sat down, McConnell lit into him, criticizing him for working with the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) as well as for posting a viral YouTube video in which he demanded “every Republican in Washington, starting with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to show some actual leadership.”

Republicans in Washington familiar with these kinds of sessions say the Kentucky Republican’s specialty is long, tension-filled pauses. But even for McConnell, this was awkward. Josh Holmes, McConnell’s top political hand, privately told friends afterward it was the most uncomfortable meeting he’d been in.

Sasse’s crime? Receiving the backing of Matt Hoskins, “the hard-charging executive director of SCF.”

As he walked out of the room, Sasse turned to Holmes — “That didn’t go well!”

The nation’s youngest university president (Nebraska’s Midland University), Sasse has become the latest collateral damage in a GOP civil war between McConnell and Holmes, on the one side, and Matt Hoskins and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, Hoskins’s political godfather.

After Hoskins invaded enemy territory October 18 in backing Bevin, McConnell has launched a campaign against his vendors, his allies, and candidates he has endorsed — beginning with a blacklisting of GOP ad firm Jamestown Associates.

Last week, for example, pressure from McConnell allies convinced SCF’s bookkeeper, Lisa Lisker, to part ways with the group. Lisker has previously worked for Republican candidates locked in tense primary elections without incident, sources say.

But with Majority Leader Harry Reid detonating the nuclear option in the background, the notion that his accountant had become part of an intra-GOP war incensed Hoskins. “It’s amazing that the Senate Republican leader is now bullying bookkeepers in his war on conservatives, but it won’t stop us from supporting Matt Bevin,” he says.


As I noted the other day, McConnell allies have been hyping an episode in Mississippi in order to drag down another insurgent campaign for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Thad Cochran.

2. What does McConnell’s charm offensives toward both vanquished and vindicated foes indicate about his future Senate relationships and how he exercises leadership—and power?

Just this week there was Bevin.

Previously there were the winning upstarts, Rand Paul and Sasse.

Is he going to be all about olive branches, or is he going to learn to avoid these toxic battles in the first place? Maybe be open to insights these outsiders may be able to offer him?

It’s not like he’s been a genius at picking winners over the years.

3. How is he going to relate to Ted Cruz and Mike Lee?

Ashley Alman, The Huffington Post: Senate Republican ‘Lynch Mob’ Rails Against Ted Cruz

A group of Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), railed against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at a private luncheon on Wednesday, according to The New York Times, which cited two unnamed people who were present.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) presented a Senate Conservatives Fund printout that logged 25 Senate Republicans — including Ayotte and McConnell — as voting for cloture on Sunday in what the group said was supporting Obamacare, “betraying their principles” and “giving Democrats the power,” the newspaper reported.

When Ayotte asked whether Cruz would repudiate the Senate Conservatives Fund’s attack, Cruz responded, “I will not,” an attendee told Politico.

At that point, McConnell, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and others joined in lashing Cruz, leader of the anti-Obamacare showdown that spiraled into the government shutdown. “It just started a lynch mob,” one senator told the Times.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on a conference call organized by Karl Rove’s Crossroads organization for large donors and their advisers on Oct. 30 that the Tea Party movement, in his view, is a “nothing but a bunch of bullies” that he plans to “punch … in the nose.”

On the call, according to a donor who was on it, McConnell personally named Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) as Tea Party conservatives he views as problematic for him. “The bulk of it was an attack on the Tea Party in general, Cruz in particular,” the source, a prominent donor, said in a phone interview with Breitbart News.

But the most memorable line came at the end of the call.

“McConnell said the Tea Party was ‘nothing but a bunch of bullies,’” the source said. “And he said ‘you know how you deal with schoolyard bullies? You punch them in the nose and that’s what we’re going to do.’”

Rove, as well as American Crossroads President and CEO Steven J. Law who also serves as the president of sister group Crossroads GPS, were also on the call. Rove “talked in a slightly gentler way, or let’s say, a more diplomatic way,” the source said. “But the message was pretty well the same: That if we’re going to save this thing, we have to back real Republicans.”

“Real Republicans.”

It’s this conversation I hear in my head whenever a pundit bemoans “purity tests” by Tea Party and other Constitutionalists.

And I just shake my head in wonder.

4. If McConnell does change (or is in the process of changing), what is he going to do about the NRSC?

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is responsible for helping Republicans gain and keep a Senate majority.

Unfortunately, it seems far more suited to attacking fellow Republicans than actually accomplishing its appointed mission.

Josh Kraushaar and James Oliphant, National Journal: The GOP Has Finally Found a Way to Defeat the Tea Party

On a rainy afternoon a month before North Carolina’s May 6 Republican primary, state House Speaker and Senate hopeful Thom Tillis was at the Pinehurst Resort and golf course, where the U.S. Open will be held later this year. But the three-minute speech Tillis gave made him sound more like he was at the Masters, being measured for a green jacket.

At a lunch forum sponsored by the Moore (County) Republican Women, to which all of the GOP candidates were invited, Tillis was acting like a winner: He had the support of 22 state senators and 68 members of the General Assembly, he boasted; he’d just wrapped up a “great” fundraising quarter, bringing in $1.3 million over the previous three months. He saw no meaningful differences between himself and his seven opponents, except the one that mattered: “It comes down to experience and a path to beating Kay Hagan. Our goal is to beat Kay Hagan,” Tillis said. “They know that we stand ready to beat them, and we’re most likely the state that will deliver … a GOP majority!”

Then Tillis mentioned that a major endorsement had just come in. “Probably my proudest moment in public service happened this morning when I was driving up here,” he said. “I just received the endorsement of the National Right to Life, and more than anybody else, more than any organization I can think of, I’m proud that they recognize the work that we’ve done to save the lives of the unborn.

On a couch in the resort’s ornate reception area after the speeches, another candidate, Mark Harris, the senior pastor at Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, expressed disbelief. “When he said he had the endorsement of the National Right to Life—somebody needs to check into that,” Harris said. “Because we all met with the National Right to Life. I know I met with them in October, and they indicated to me that they probably would not be endorsing in the primary.”

But one of Harris’s strategists, Mike Rusher, who had been standing beside him scrolling through screens on his smartphone, quickly confirmed that the endorsement was real. Harris turned red and paused for a few seconds before responding. “I guess it’s just an indication of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s pressure,” he said. As it turned out, it was worse than that. In the press release announcing the endorsement, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said Tillis was the “only candidate with a proven record of leadership who can defeat pro-abortion Sen. Hagan this fall.”

Electability was trumping ideological purity—just as the establishment had planned.

This is how they’re working it:

After being caught flat-footed by tea-party insurgents in 2010, allowing candidates like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle to win the GOP nomination and then self-destruct—and then, for fear of alienating the newly empowered Right, copping a largely laissez-faire attitude in 2012—the Republican establishment, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is taking a different approach this time around.

In March, McConnell told The New York Times he was going to “crush” outside conservative groups that dared to take on Senate incumbents. Tillis isn’t an incumbent, but he is nonetheless an early beneficiary of the emerging establishment strategy to engage its own roster of outside groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a coordinated effort to ensure that the most electable GOP candidates get nominated, especially in pivotal Senate contests.

Instead of merely handing out endorsements, these groups are spending big on expensive advertising campaigns on behalf of their favored candidates. They’re quietly circulating opposition research raising questions about tea-party challengers’ fitness to serve.

They learned from the aggressive campaigning of John McCain and Orrin Hatch as they fended off challenges from the right.

“It’s a good lesson, one that McConnell certainly noticed. It fits in with his mode of campaigning: very aggressive, getting involved early, making sure no one is successful at defining you,” says Piper, now a lobbyist whose shop maintains close connections with Senate Republicans. “Nobody likes family squabbles, but at the end of the day the goal is to produce candidates that can win in the fall.”

In this particular campaign, it worked. So far. They got the candidate they want. They just don’t know whether he’s going to win in the fall.

A friend asked me today what I have against McConnell.

What you just read is what I have against McConnell.

The decision tree

First, Republicans have to get a majority and whether they do is still an open question.

Then, the Republican Caucus has to elect their Leader.

Will it be McConnell?

If so, will he reform? Will he be put on a short leash? Will he continue as he has?

Will he be interested in governing according to conservative, constitutional principles—or is having power and punishing enemies all he cares about?

Will he either lead, or help others lead, a real movement of restoring first principles?

Or is he interested in the same old, same old?

I hope we get to find out.


2 thoughts on “What Will Become of Mitch McConnell? Four Key Questions”

  1. I think we need to consider the fact Mcconnel was a minority leader in the senate. With his party only controlling Congress. Considering his position I think he did quite well….playing defense. If he becomes majority leader with the house along with him. He goes on offense and we see a different Mcconnell.


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