Saturday, May 25, 2024

Is Mitch McConnell Sandbagging The 2022 Midterms?

There’s a good piece at The Federalist today by Christopher Bedford castigating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the team of political advisors he’s gathered around himself to run the GOP midterm war effort. Bedford says Team McConnell has indicated they want to essentially surrender on all the best issues for the Right this fall.

McConnell,” a weekend NBC headline read, “wants to win the suburbs by defusing cultural hot buttons.”

His goal, the carefully placed story reports, is to “downplay the contentious issues on which suburban voters may be more sympathetic to Democrats.”

Those issues listed include guns, abortion, and Donald Trump, of course. That’s not where it ends, though; that’s never where it ends with D.C. Republicans.

Gender ideology and childhood transitioning? That’s an uncomfortable fight for the retired businessmen who make up much of the national GOP. Critical race theory and intersectionality in schools? Another doozy. And if our bi-annual “Gang of X” crews mean anything, even immigration is a lot harder for Republicans to talk about than, say, taxes and regulations.

These sorts of articles don’t just fall out of reporters’ brains, though: They’re placed by interested parties. In this case, it’s Sen. Mitch McConnell and his team, who are now nakedly working to run a 2012 election strategy in 2022. They’re not even hiding it anymore.

Bedford reminds that the “2012 strategy” was a loser for the GOP in 2012. That year the GOP had lots of opportunities to pick up Senate seats and managed to underperform horribly – it was the year of the infamous Karl Rove Super PACs American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS raising and spending some $300 million in money from people like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson, only to waste 94 percent of it on lost races.

That year the messaging was atrociously bland, and it allowed not just for a Republican Senate majority to slip away but for an unpopular Barack Obama, who had stagnated the U.S. economy when it should have robustly rebounded from the deep recession of 2008-09, to walk off with a second term against an atrociously bland presidential candidate in Mitt Romney.

It was the nadir of the Republican Party in modern times. At least when Barry Goldwater took a beating, his campaign died with its boots on. Goldwater stood for something, and the conservative movement he championed in that rough 1964 election continued to grow until it flowered under Ronald Reagan’s leadership.

And was then betrayed by Reagan’s vice president and successor George H. W. Bush, whose cronies have served as the Republican establishment ever since.

McConnell, elected to the Senate in 1984 as a Reaganite conservative but who has betrayed that legacy repeatedly since and who has emerged as the pre-eminent opponent to the Donald Trump/populist/MAGA/revivalist wing of the party which now commands an enormous majority among its membership, is the living embodiment of Bush Republicanism today.

And as Bedford notes, that manifests itself into a negligence of public sentiment before a major election cycle. Not good.

He identifies three problems. The first is that 2022 is a terrible year to offer up bland economic talking points as a campaign strategy…

2022 might be a year like any other for most Americans, but in politics, 2022 is a midterm year. That makes a difference in a number of ways, including that we’re going to see fewer voters. Sure, turnout will be solid, but unlike with general elections (2020, 2024, etc.), only the most active and most motivated will turn out. Because of this, these off-year elections are decided by the party faithful more than anyone else.

November’s winners will be the candidates who rev up their bases the most — and nothing excites Republican base voters like the issues McConnell so desperately wants to avoid.

This is true. Midterm elections are base elections, and the Republican base is a lot more fired up than the Democrat base is. It doesn’t hurt that swing voters are skewing right thanks to the utter collapse of the center-Left in America amid the implosion of Joe Biden and the ascendancy of the loons of the Hard Left within the Democrat Party; that’s manifesting itself in Hispanics and Asians making a significant shift to the GOP.

And the Republican base, which is supplemented by the swing center, is not looking to elect Democrat Lite.

The second problem Bedford notes is that the cultural issues McConnell has been poo-pooing for months, ever since he attacked his colleague Rick Scott for offering a Contract For America-style conservative agenda for GOP candidates to run on, are the biggest winners available to Republicans this cycle.

The “cultural hot buttons” are exactly what have driven suburban moderates away from the Democratic Party in the first place.

Though suburban moderates (and women, in particular) were driven toward voting for Joe Biden in the 2020 general election by what they perceived to be an atmosphere of constant cultural conflict around the Trump White House, just one year later, Republican Glenn Youngkin was able to win the governorship in blue Virginia by diving head first into the culture war.

While Youngkin is a corporate-friendly moderate by any stretch, his campaign stalled when he wore a mask and focused on grocery taxes and other economic matters. When he overruled his high-paid consultants and drilled down on contentious battles of transgender ideology, left-wing school boards, shuttered classrooms, and activist teachers, he pulled ahead, earning a surprise win.

This win would not have been possible had McConnell and his men run Youngkin’s campaign. Instead, they would have driven Youngkin’s campaign past grocery taxes and inflation and right into an obscure page of has-been political history.

Youngkin might have preferred those economic issues, sure. He is a retired businessman (like most of the rest of the national GOP) and is most at ease when speaking about economic issues. He didn’t have that choice, however; nor did the moderate suburbanites who propelled him to the governor’s manse.

That’s correct, and the Youngkin race in Virginia is a perfect example proving it.

Biden put a transvestite “drag activist” in charge of our nuclear fuel stockpile and a transgender lunatic who killed thousands of senior citizens by implanting COVID patients in nursing homes as a high official in the Department of Health and Human Services. Biden has the military writing rules requiring heterosexual soldiers, sailors and airmen to shower with trannies without complaint at a time when it’s hemorrhaging personnel thanks to nightmarish recruitment shortfalls and a purge of the unvaccinated. And he’s threatening to stop school lunches for states which don’t allow men to compete in women’s sports. This, while he sics the FBI on public school parents disgusted with things like Critical Race Theory, puts the Department of Transportation on a warpath to destroy “racist” highways which run through majority-black slums, and prioritizes illegal aliens for delivery of baby formula when newborn American citizens go hungry.

And Mitch McConnell wants to talk about corporate tax rates while all this is going on?

Finally, Bedford says the entire premise of the Bush Republican set – namely that it’s those nasty country-class social conservatives who are stirring up all the trouble and scaring the center away from the GOP – has been exposed as dead wrong.

In the culture war, the GOP is not the aggressor. Far from it, the Republican Party (and the American people, more broadly) are fighting a defensive maneuver: Today’s battles aren’t about shutting down gay bars or raiding Black Panther meetings; rather, they’re being fought in our kids’ classrooms and bathrooms.

And this isn’t slowing down, either. Despite fireworks over their agenda, just this week the country’s largest teachers union proposed changing “mother” to “birthing parent” in its contracts. This, from an educators’ trade union. This, from all around us.

The hard lesson that suburban parents learned in 2021 is despite the Democrats and the media blame game — and despite the GOP’s hand-wringing — Trump was not the cause of the omnipresent American Culture War. Yes, he answered nearly every call to battle, but rarely did he instigate any major cultural conflicts.

Perhaps to moderates and McConnell’s great surprise, in schools, professional sports, playgrounds, city halls, amusement parks, and entertainment companies across the country, the culture war has continued in his absence. In many places, it’s even heated up.

That’s why suburban parents from all types of political, religious, and ethnic backgrounds are rebelling against woke policies. They understand who the aggressors are; they get it, yet the professionals in charge of the Republican Party don’t.

This is also correct. When Joe Rogan and Elon Musk are talking up Ron DeSantis in 2024, and Musk is sharing memes on Twitter explaining how he used to think of himself as left-of-center and now clearly is not, the old “compassionate conservative” formulation is dead.

We didn’t choose the new rules. We wanted not to have these fights. We’re having them because the Left knows no limits. And putting the Mitch McConnells of the world in charge of the agenda has led to defeat after defeat, surrender after surrender, to such an extent that the vast majority of Americans are on the side of the social conservatives Mitch McConnell and his pals have been so ashamed of for so long.

But where this column will depart from Bedford’s analysis is that while he’s explaining that Team McConnell is out of touch with the public as the reason for this myopia, we give them more – and less – credit than that.

Mitch McConnell wants to retake the Senate majority, yes. But he doesn’t want the massive sea change election which gives the GOP 56 or 57 seats – something which is actually doable with the right kind of electoral strategy aimed at riding the coming wave and maximizing it could bring such a majority to fruition.

This isn’t just the strategy McConnell, who is a slave to America’s corporate class and who is owned by China almost as much as Dianne Feinstein and Eric Swalwell are, is most comfortable with. It’s the strategy which is in his interest. He’s sandbagging.

But why would he do this? Because Mitch McConnell understands math.

Talk to people who really understand the GOP Senate caucus and this is what they’ll tell you – of the 50 Republicans in the Senate, some 30 of them are loyal to McConnell as the caucus leader. The other 20, the Ted Cruzes, Josh Hawleys, Rand Pauls and Rick Scotts of the world, are quite ready for somebody, and something, new. McConnell has been the GOP Senate leader since 2007, after all, and it’s fair to say these have not been good years.

Of the 30, several of them are not going to be back. Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Richard Burr, Richard Shelby and Jim Imhofe are calling it quits. So McConnell really only has 25 or 26 votes he can count on.

And the Republican nominees in all of those races (they aren’t all decided yet, but the candidates who are left fit the pattern I’m about to describe) are all much more MAGA/revivalist than Bushie. Even Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Katie Britt in Alabama, who aren’t exactly paragons of revivalism, got where they’ve gotten thanks to an endorsement from Donald Trump. That endorsement came with a very key unpublicized condition: that they vote against McConnell for Senate Majority Leader.

Now – it’s entirely possible that some of these new folks might double-cross Trump. We would bet against that, though, since McConnell is 80 and will be 82 when he comes up for re-election in 2024, and the odds are pretty good he’ll retire at that point or at least try to hand the reins off to a deputy. John Thune, the milquetoast corporate stooge from South Dakota, is the rumored recipient of that largesse. With McConnell likely a short-timer and Trump still the likely frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, it seems like incredibly dumb politics to make an enemy of Trump simply for the purpose of better treatment in your first two years in the Senate.

What this means is that McConnell can’t count on much more than what he has no matter how big the wave is. Because if you start getting MAGA Republicans elected over Rafael Warnock, Mark Kelly, Michael Bennet, Maggie Hassan, Catherine Cortez Masto or even Patty Murray or Da Nang Dick Blumenthal in a big wave election, 26 votes will not be enough to make Mitch McConnell the majority leader. And some of the erstwhile allies he’s counted on, the Lindsey Grahams of the world for example, could well sense the change in direction of the wind and move on to a Rick Scott or Ron Johnson.

Which, from a revivalist perspective, is exactly what’s needed. We’re sure Bedford would agree.

Mitch McConnell is many things we don’t like. But he’s a wily old cat. He isn’t stupid, he’s just playing a different game than he ought to. So when you see weak, bland and low-energy messaging from the NRSC this cycle and lots of corporate dollars fanning out on TV in an effort to bore Republican voters to sleep in November, just know that effort is aimed precisely at its goal.

The only way past is through. That wave election must come even in spite of the GOP establishment.

If you’re looking for a simpler explanation, here’s one…