During the longest Federal Government shutdown in history which has just ended, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was criticized in some quarters for “sitting on his hands” instead of actively using the power of his position to bring about a quick end to the shutdown.
I am not a fan of Senator McConnell’s record of right-wing obstructionism – think his support for almost all things “progressive,” his eight year partisan attack on all-things Obama, his refusal to grant Judge Merritt Garland even a hearing let alone a vote on his nomination to the Supreme Court. The list goes on and on.
But in this case, I think McConnell played it just right, the only way he could.
He and the president have never liked each other. McConnell wanted Rand Paul to be the nominee in 2016 right up to the time when it was clear the nominee would be Trump. And early on in his presidency, Trump criticized McConnell publicly for failing to get the Affordable Care Act repealed.
But when it comes to power over Republicans, in and out of Congress, Trump wins hands down. To challenge him in the Grand Old Party that like a disease he has invaded and destroyed is to lose.
McConnell did not advocate nor was he in favor of the shutdown. In advance, he cautioned Trump that shutdowns seldom work and the public doesn’t like them and blames the side that engineers one.
Now, a sensible. serious president, one schooled in the way of politics beyond just shouting slogans and boasts to a hot-eyed crowd, might have listened to McConnell , might have respected his record of tactical accomplishment.
But that’s not Trump. Until now, Trump has always found a way to “win” by simply bullying it through.
So, what should, could McConnell have done once Trump’s shut down folly began?
Should he have taken to the Senate floor and joined Chuck Schumer in denouncing the shutdown? McConnell is the Republican leader of Republican Senators who with rare exceptions follow Trump slavishly.
McConnell could in the name of sanity have said to his fellow Republican Senators “Come on boys and girls and follow me in opposing this shutdown” but no leader can get very far out in front of his troops and in this case when he looked behind him McConnell would have discovered that no one was there.
McConnell would not only have been ineffective he would soon no longer be the leader. How about Tom Cotton or Mike Lee for leader instead of McConnell…would you like that better?
What McConnell did was stand aside and wait Trump out. Oh, yes. he gave the required “I support the president” speech from time to time but with no fire in it. He certainly did not work publicly or behind the scenes to shore up Trump’s crumbling position or approval rating.
At this week’s Senate Republican caucus when McConnell was attacked as bearing some fault for the situation he snapped “Do you think I liked this,” as close as he thought he could come publicly in denouncing the president’s willful and harmful action. And when the president finally capitulated and bowed to the obvious in a phone call to him, McConnell was careful to tell his Republican colleagues that it was Trump’s idea to re-open the Government for three weeks. Kudos to our president.
Should Trump’s position as president become untenable – impeachment or so un-popular that no Republican up for re-election (as McConnell is in 2020) need fear him – then they will all turn on him. But not yet.
McConnell played the shutdown just right – for his Republican colleagues in the Senate and for himself as leader and candidate for re-election.
Thank goodness Donald J Trump doesn’t have McConnell’s tactical smarts. He would be even more dangerous than he is!