GOP Candidates Putting Distance between Themselves, McConnell

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Heading into the 2014 midterms, I opined that the best thing that could happen to the GOP was to retake the Senate, but to have then-minority leader Mitch McConnell lose his seat. His reputation as a wily tactician (read: mean sonofabitch) notwithstanding, he was manifestly lacking in leadership qualities, and his tired, business-as-usual image was exactly wrong for the times. For a time, his seat seemed to be in jeopardy against challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, but the wave election bore the old sea turtle aloft and landed him safely on the shores of his old Kentucky home.

More's the pity. Since winning that election, McConnell has distinguished himself more by what he's not done than anything he's actually accomplished. True, he refused to hold hearings on Merrick Garland's nomination by President Obama to the Supreme Court, but any Republican worth his salt would have done the same thing; that was simply action by inaction. More recently, he has signally failed on the One Job the GOP was handed its majorities in both houses to accomplish, the repealing of Obamacare and other excrescences of the prior administration, such as the monstrous Dodd-Frank bill and its brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

So it's no wonder that McConnell is now the poster boy for the Do-Nothing Congress of 2017-18, and one of the principal reasons the GOP is in danger of losing its grip on both houses a year from now:

Nobody wants to be on Team McConnell. Heading into the 2018 elections, only one Republican Senate candidate nationwide has pledged unequivocally to back Mitch McConnell as majority leader. Most Republicans facing competitive primaries are hemming and hawing, admiring McConnellโ€™s political savvy and fundraising apparatus โ€” but also looking warily at his sinking approval ratings both with Republicans and the broader electorate.

Even in some of the red and purple states represented by Democratic senators where McConnell is hoping to pad his majority โ€” places like Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin โ€” the leading candidates are dodging questions about McConnell's leadership or threatening to oppose him if the GOP Congress doesn't deliver on the party's legislative priorities in the coming months.

A few Senate candidates are outright spurning him, aligning themselves with former White House strategist Steve Bannon. Both Democrats and Republicans think President Donald Trump has simultaneously elevated McConnell in importance and blamed him for the slow pace of Republican legislating, including the failure to repeal Obamacare. The result is a GOP Senate leader few candidates want to publicly align with, even if they're likely to support him if they arrive in Washington.

On paper, the 2018 elections, especially on the Senate side, look like a slam-dunk for the Republicans. The Democrats have to defend 25 of the 34 seats on the ballots (including two phony "independents"), many of them in states Trump won last year. But McConnell has become increasingly radioactive, and will only get more so as we approach election day. If for no reason other than his public persona alone the GOP ought to dump him: Democrats understand Hollywood and the media in a way the Republicans don't, and they understand that McLuhan was right and the medium in politics really is the message.

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