News & Politics

Why Is Mitch McConnell Telling 2020 GOP Candidates to Run 'Independent of Trump'?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

No one ever accused GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of being the brightest bulb in the Senate. In fact, he has been one of the more ineffective Republican Senate leaders of recent vintage.

But McConnell really can’t be this stupid, can he?

Washington Times:

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republican senators running for re-election next year should not couple their messaging to President Trump but rather run “independent” campaigns built around how they’ve helped their states.

The Kentucky Republican, who is himself up for reelection, said senators’ races are big enough that they can escape the gravity of the presidential race and establish themselves on their own.

Mr. McConnell also said Republicans must — and can — reverse disastrous losses in the suburbs that cost them their House majority in November’s elections.

In effect, McConnell is telling senators to run away from the party’s standard-bearer. The president’s numbers might be underwater, but McConnell’s admonition shows he is woefully out of touch with the realities of the 2020 campaign.

Like 2016, and to some extent, 2012, the 2020 election will be a base election. The candidate who can turn out more of their most passionate supporters will end up winning.

Donald Trump has millions of passionate supporters. It’s why Democrats fear running against him. The casual politico in Hollywood or some lefty advocacy group might think Trump is easy pickings. But the professionals in the Democratic Party harbor no illusions that whatever candidate comes out on top in the primary process will have an uphill climb to achieve victory.

A Republican candidate who wants to win will certainly embrace the president’s accomplishments. And they should have no problem embracing the party platform, which will largely be written by Trump’s people.

So what’s McConnell worried about? The suburbs.

“There’s no good reason for your typical suburban resident to be frightened by this Republican Senate,” he told reporters in a briefing on policy and politics as the 100-day mark of the new Congress approaches.

He said Democrats have helped the GOP with its case by running so far to the left on issues such as the Green New Deal, a sweeping environmental and social policy overhaul, and “Medicare for All,” a government-sponsored universal health care plan.

Republican senators can tell voters they’ll guard against that sort of change, he said.

“From a Senate point of view I’m going to be arguing, and I’m encouraging my colleagues to argue, that we’re the firewall against socialism in this country,” Mr. McConnell said.

Of course, Trump is making the exact same argument, so how “independent” does McConnell think GOP candidates should be?

Big city suburbs are not as white, not as wealthy as they used to be. But that doesn’t mean candidates running in collar counties of Detroit, Philadelphia, and other former GOP bastions should ignore the president. First of all, Democrats won’t let them. But beyond that, Trump as the slayer of socialism is a winning message and should allow all Republican candidates to claim they’re on the same page as the president.

McConnell may be stuck in the past, thinking an unpopular president would be a drag on his party’s chances in 2020. But Trump has shown an ability to transcend his general unpopularity and excite his base of supporters. It may not be enough for him to win re-election. But it certainly won’t hurt the cause of most GOP candidates.