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Mitch McConnell and His Concept of Absolute Use of Power


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#1 LFC

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 04:18 PM

Vox has an excellent piece on McConnell being one of the single biggest drivers of change in the Senate and in American politics. They tell you to ignore his words and just know that his fervent belief is that a party should use the power they have to get whatever they want. All norms that used to govern the Senate are dead, hence the case for killing the filibuster should Dems regain control. This was once unthinkable but moderates now realize that McConnell absolute refuses to allow them to govern if they gain a majority as long as he has the filibuster. The other party is to be cut out as completely as possible. this is the McConnell Rule and it is much like the Hastert Rule just across houses and the White House. Republicans loathe compromise so there's simply no reason to even attempt it anymore. Everything is about raw power and we simply must expect nothing to happen in Congress if power is split.

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McConnell’s legacy, rather, will be in transforming the United States Senate into a different institution, reflecting a different era in American politics. Historically, the Senate has been an institution unto itself, built around norms of restraint and civility, run according to informal understandings and esoteric rituals, designed around the interests of individuals rather than the stratagems of parties. This is the Senate McConnell claimed to revere, naming Sen. Henry Clay — known as “the Great Compromiser” — as his model and promising a restoration of the old traditions.

This is the Senate McConnell has eviscerated, through his own actions and those he has provoked in the Democrats. Despite his theatrical embrace of sobriquets like “Darth Vader” and “the Grim Reaper,” McConnell isn’t an evil genius. He is a vessel for the currents and forces of his time. What sets him apart is his fulsome embrace of those forces, his willingness to cut through the cant and pretense of American politics, to stand athwart polarization yelling, “Faster!”

Under McConnell, the Senate has been run according to a simple principle: Parties should use as much power as they have to achieve the outcomes they desire. This would have been impossible in past eras, when parties were weaker and individual senators stronger, when political interests were more rooted in geography and media wasn’t yet nationalized. But it is possible now, and it is a dramatic transformation of the Senate as an institution, with reverberations McConnell cannot control and that his party may come to regret. Indeed, McConnell’s single most profound effect on the Senate may be what he convinces Democrats to do in response to his machinations.

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Liberals focus on the wanton hypocrisy of McConnell’s comments. “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” he said at the time. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” But focusing on what McConnell said obscures the underlying logic of what he did: Republicans didn’t want Obama to fill Scalia’s seat, they had the power to stop him, and so they did. All the rest of it was just mouth noises.

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This is the true McConnell rule: What parties have the power and authority to do, they should do. And to give him his due: It is much stranger, by the standards of most political systems, for the reverse to be the case, for senators to refuse to use their power to pursue their ideological ends on a question as important as a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. But that’s how American politics has traditionally worked.

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What Democrats now believe is McConnell won’t let them govern if they win, and in the aftermath of Garland and of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, he won’t show them any quarter if he wins. Republicans, to be fair, believe the same about Democrats. Compared to the Senates of yore, both sides are right. McConnell has gone further, faster, than the Democratic leaders in torching old precedents and making the realpolitik principles of the new era clear. But in doing, he’s potentially done something that liberal activists and pundits were never able to achieve: convince Senate Democrats that the Senate is broken, and that new rules are needed.

In this, McConnell’s strengths are also his weaknesses. He possesses a brazenness about American politics, a cynicism about the use of power, that lets him execute stratagems other leaders would be constrained by their reputations or fear of backlash from attempting. But that same comfort with the dark side, that willingness to play the Grim Reaper of politics, robs his opponents of their excuses for inaction, of their comforting belief that comity and compromise waits around the corner.


Let's hope President Biden realizes this. I'm sure a future President Harris would.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#2 LFC

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Posted 17 February 2021 - 12:00 PM

Josh Marshall penned a similar analysis of Moscow Mitch (in full due to paywall). He is one of the biggest and most enduring dangers to American democracy and basic functionality of our nation. Bold is mine. McConnell's beliefs will likely eventually be responsible for more deaths and far more misery that Trump's tenure. "Lords and serfs" is clearly his bedrock principle and maintaining power is all about that.

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Before you get your hackles up, no … this isn’t a post inducting Mitch McConnell into the Resistance. It’s not a post painting McConnell as part of some institutionalist, non-Trump GOP. It’s none of those things. McConnell is just as awful as you and I always thought and in many ways critically responsible for sustaining Trump through his four years in office. My point is a different one, but I think important. I had writing this post in mind before ex-President Trump’s tirade yesterday. But his tirade for me cast the whole reality in a starker and clarifying relief.

The House GOP especially has had a series of weak, often feckless leaders, with Kevin McCarthy being just the latest, weakest and least fecked. But as I wrote back on the 11th, this isn’t really about bad luck or weak character. It’s built into the structure of the modern GOP. The GOP has weak leaders because weak, figurehead leaders are part and parcel of the GOP being a rightist, revanchist party while masquerading as a center-right party of government. The Jim Jordans and Steve Kings and Louis Gohmerts of the GOP prefer to run their party from the back benches or committee chairs under nominal leaders like McCarthy because it gives them power without accountability, a combination which is the mother’s milk of today’s conservative politics. McCarthy, famously and notoriously, went from privately telling colleagues that he believed Trump was literally on Vladimir Putin’s payroll to becoming one of Trump’s most committed and lickspittleyest toadies.

I’ve been making this point about the weak-leader structural peculiarity of the GOP since back during John Boehner’s Speakership. But writing the piece a week ago brought the matter together for me in a way that made me realize just how much Mitch McConnell doesn’t fit the model. He’s actually quite a strong and able congressional leader who has basically never been rolled by his party’s right flank. Critical to this success is the make up of the Senate itself. The Senate GOP conference has plenty of crazies and showboating rightwing opportunists. But every member of the Senate has to run in un-gerrymandered statewide electorates. That makes a critical difference and probably makes McConnell’s distinct role in today’s GOP possible. But it’s not a sufficient explanation for the way McConnell has managed to be an extremely powerful legislative leader in an era in which leadership weakness has been a key feature of Republican politics.

McConnell has used this power frequently in some of the most damaging ways, innovating and deepening the culture of minority party rule which now dominates the Senate, brazenly stealing a Supreme Court seat and more. It is difficult to say whether McConnell has just strategically adopted his party’s more radical positions or whether these are in fact his to start with. But that’s really a question of what’s inside the man’s head, which is more a curiosity than a matter of real political importance. My own read is that McConnell’s cares about a deep structural evisceration of the late 20th century post-New Deal state to be achieved mainly through the conservative domination of the federal judiciary, regulatory rollback and deepening the structural pillars of minority rule, which is necessary to perpetuate the first two.

Among supporters of democracy there’s been a constant refrain through the Trump years that we need to be on our guard for the smarter, more disciplined Trump – one who could take the long view, not be hobbled by a short attention span, obvious ignorance of the mechanisms of governance and debilitating enthrallment to his own bottomless neediness and unquenchable appetites. That’s been Ted Cruz. Now it’s Josh Hawley. Sometimes it’s Nikki Haley. But really, paradoxically, the smarter, more disciplined, more dangerous Trump has been staring us in the face all along: Mitch McConnell.

Part of the tell about Trump’s relationship with the balkanized GOP came in the dystopic interregnum between the presidencies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. I mentioned above that Kevin McCarthy went from saying that Donald Trump was literally in the pay of a hostile foreign power to becoming Trump’s most dutiful and loyal servant. But along with erstwhile allies like Brian Kemp and Mike Pence, McCarthy was frequently the target of Trump’s ire and attacks as the defeated president cast around for allies to help him reject the result of the election and overthrow the constitution. He attacked McCarthy over and over and McCarthy responded with more and more obedience. If you look back through the record, though, he never attacked McConnell.

The reason is simple: like all bullies Trump seeks out weakness and is overawed by strength. McConnell scares Trump. To be clear, McConnell did more than his part to sustain Trump’s charade through November and December. But he had his limits and Trump was careful not even to try to push him past them.

Looking over the last five years probably no one did better by the reign of Donald Trump than Mitch McConnell. As we know, the right-wing domination of the federal judiciary is McConnell’s deepest and most abiding commitment. He’s not clearly associated with any particular legislative agenda. It’s all about the courts. Trump gave him the payoff for stealing Merrick Garland’s court seat and bagged him a total of three Supreme Court seats. Trump signed over court appointments to McConnell’s friends at the Federalist society and McConnell trained all the institutional focus of the Senate to confirming every last one.

It’s true that Trump’s denouement saw McConnell surrendering the leadership of the Senate which is the basis of his power. But I suspect he views the sacrifice as well worth the judgeship motherlode Trump delivered during his four years in the White House. In any case, McConnell’s got a solid shot of getting his job back in two years. McConnell got everything he wanted from Trump. But Trump wasn’t able to dominate McConnell. And when the crunch really came, McConnell told Trump – let’s put this baldly – to go fuck himself.

And he’s told him that repeatedly over the last two months.

That, needless to say, drives Trump to distraction, though – because Trump is a punk and a bully – he still never attacked McConnell publicly. McCarthy answers to Trump. Trump answers to McConnell. All of which brings us to yesterday’s Trump tirade, which has a distant wispy feel relegated to SuperPac press releases rather than the predatory immediacy of his late Twitter account. It does break the pattern I’ve described here. But we can’t understand it without seeing it fundamentally as an expression of Trump’s weakness.

Don’t take any of the above as suggesting that McConnell is infallible in pursuit of minoritarian constitutional wrecking. He did end up losing the Senate Majority. His first attempt at rolling Chuck Schumer ended if not in defeat then at least a rather total strategic retreat. Joe Biden seems to have thoroughly learned the lessons of the Obama years which were largely McConnell’s doing. Trump is now threatening what amounts to a civil war within the GOP, something long promised during the Trump years even as Trump marched steadily toward never-contested one family rule of the party. He says he’ll primary McConnell and everyone who supports him.

This sounds plausible on the surface inasmuch as the upshot of the insurrection and the denouement of Trump’s presidency has driven not a ‘reckoning’ within the GOP but a doubling down and intensification of support for Trump and the fable of the stolen election. But I wouldn’t be so sure. He may mount a scorched earth attack which robs the GOP of the chance at a new Senate majority. Or maybe I’m wrong altogether and he’ll take McConnell down. But again, I’m skeptical. McConnell’s renewed attack on Trump after voting to acquit him at his second impeachment trial was no one-off. He’s not Liz Cheney who maybe momentarily got out over her skis. He did more or less the same thing after the meeting of the Electoral College in December. He did it again just before the insurrection. He did it again after the insurrection. He’s doing it now. None of this is to valorize McConnell. I’m not saying he has ‘courage’ that others lack. It tells me that he doesn’t believe Donald Trump is a threat to him – not to his Senate seat or to his hold on the Senate GOP caucus, maybe not even his hopes of reclaiming the majority in two years (though on that last point I’m less certain). He’s told us this over and over. And for the reasons I’ve stated above I put a lot of stock in McConnell’s read of political realities of the moment.

" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#3 LFC

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 11:23 AM

After Trump's attacks on Moscow Mitch McConnell his response has been ... no response.

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People shouldn’t expect to see Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continue to publicly spar with ex-President Donald Trump, according to the Washington Post.

McConnell is reportedly going to let Trump have the final word in their brief spat, which saw the former president issue a lengthy screed on Tuesday calling him a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” and claiming Republican senators “will not win again” if they remain allied with McConnell.

The GOP leader’s associates told the Post that he doesn’t plan to speak to Trump ever again after their last conversation on December 14, nor does he have interest in continuing their feud.

Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, told the Post that he would be “very surprised” if McConnell “ever says the words Donald Trump again.”


Josh Marshall explains (paywalled) that it's because MMM has the power and can brush Trump aside without fear.

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I believe I predicted as much in the latest episode of the podcast, which dropped yesterday evening. Mitch McConnell’s response to ex-President Trump’s screed? Apparently nothing. He doesn’t plan to respond to even talk to Trump again. That’s the power move. And that fits because he has the power in that relationship.

As I explained yesterday in this post and elaborated on with David and Kate in the pod, Trump doesn’t scare McConnell. Or more specifically, Trump can’t challenge McConnell’s hold over the Senate GOP caucus.

How do I know that? McConnell told me with his actions. Trump’s outburst signals weakness not strength.

Trump’s going to organize a primary against McConnell? Yeah, right. McConnell will be 84 if and when he runs again in 2026. Trump will be eighty. There’s a decent chance one or both of them won’t even be alive by then. And the truth is that Trump can’t maintain his focus for more than a few weeks. Even if he did, I actually doubt he could dislodge McConnell if he tried.

" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#4 golden_valley

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 11:58 AM

Without McConnell Trump wouldn't have been very successful. His judges were Federalist Society judges and McConnell had already cleared the way for Trump's 3 Supreme Court appointments by holding one seat open for almost a year and hurrying the confirmation of Kavanaugh and ramming through Coney Barrett in record time. No filibuster ability on lower level judicial appointments was already accomplished. Confirming Trump's Cabinet...a massive tax cut via budget reconciliation...all done because McConnell enabled them.

#5 pnwguy

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 12:52 PM

Trump shot his somebody on 5th Avenue, but Mitch supplied the gun and loaded the bullets.
"All glory to the HypnoTrump, or else..."

"It all makes sense when you remind yourself that the GOP is no longer a political party but turned into an organized crime family"

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#6 LFC

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Posted 23 February 2021 - 09:31 AM

A TPM reader discusses what the Congressional Confederate Guard was like back in the day vs. what they are like today. They view McConnell as a throwback in the fact that he's actually smart and competent in his obstructions / destruction. The rest of the crowd today? Most are dumb as bricks.

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I thought your appreciation of Mitch was good. I am nearing completion of the Years of LBJ by Robert Caro, and in the Passage of Power after the assassination, LBJ sees the legislative pickle JFK got himself into. I have left off right where Richard Russell says that they (the Southern bloc) could beat Kennedy, but that they won’t beat LBJ. I have not gotten to the part where LBJ figures the way out, but Caro makes a point here (and throughout the series in some ways): Congress was broken from the time FDR’s court packing scheme died all the way through the Kennedy Administration, and the only progress that was made was when LBJ pushed through measures as Majority Leader (limited as they were–geared to him becoming President). And Caro points out that the reason Congress was broken was that the old bulls of the Southern bloc controlled the Senate.

That’s still the same, of course–the conservative Southern bloc still controls the Senate (or at least controls it enough to block changes). But there are two notable changes. First, that Southern bloc, while hailing from the same states is now solidly Republican, not Democratic. The second difference is that the Southern leaders are just not that strong or smart anymore. Russell and other Southern leaders were always successful because they were much smarter. Maybe not about everything–in writing a biography about LBJ, and his many foibles, Caro paints a picture of JFK that depicts a man that is both heroic and just vastly smarter and more talented than other politicians of his age. But Kennedy was as easily foiled by strong Congressional leaders as other Northern liberals had been and would be. But today’s Republican leaders–with the exception of Mitch–tend to be complete doofuses. And not just the titular leaders. McCarthy is a pathetic figure, but you note that the people leading from the back benches are Gohmert, King, and Jordan. These are not smart guys. Jordan’s position of influence is heightened only because Trump enjoyed his naked aggression; but that’s the same thing that had him hire Van der Veen to represent him.

Mitch is a throwback to Southern leaders that could plot and execute a legislative strategy. That is a rare skill in the Republican Conference.

(It’s worth noting that there is another truth in the Caro books; liberals have been trying to end the filibuster for generations, and it is the tool that more than anything has allowed conservatives to control the Senate.)

" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#7 Rich T Bikkies

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Posted 02 March 2021 - 02:33 AM

View PostLFC, on 17 February 2021 - 12:00 PM, said:

Josh Marshall penned a similar analysis of Moscow Mitch (in full due to paywall). He is one of the biggest and most enduring dangers to American democracy and basic functionality of our nation. Bold is mine. McConnell's beliefs will likely eventually be responsible for more deaths and far more misery that Trump's tenure. "Lords and serfs" is clearly his bedrock principle and maintaining power is all about that.

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