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McConnell and Republicans Have No “Bottom,” no “Red Line,” Whatsoever

I watched the clip that people have been talking about, where Jonathan Swan of Axios had a lengthy interview with Mitch McConnell. I will say at the outset that you could ordinarily not pay me enough to watch McConnell; and that I think that Axios, along with Politico, Punchbowl, and Real Clear Politics, are owned and run by Right Wing forces who pretend that they are neutral observers, above the fray, when they are completely invested in having Republicans, including the MAGA side, win everything. They are not to be trusted in the slightest.

But Swan does seem intelligent, whatever his agenda, and he actually follows up with his interview subjects, does not let them just avoid the questions. He did not just let Trump ignore his questions, but of course Republicans always wiggle away, by just never answering. Here, he pointed out that McConnell had said on January 6, 2021, that he held Trump responsible for those events, and that it was a grave dereliction of duty. But then a month later, he said that he would definitely support Trump for President if he were the nominee in 2024. And Swan asked if there were not a contradiction there.

And McConnell, alternately laughing and being dismissive, said there was not. That he was completely comfortable with his position.. That he does not choose the nominee, and that he has a responsiblity to support the nominee.

Swan pointed to Liz Cheney, who said that she would do everything she could to make sure that Trump did not come close to the nomination. And McConnell laughed and said that maybe Swan should be interviewing her instead. The key point was when Swan asked if McConnell had any “red line,” implying some kind of moral line which would be going too far for him. And McConnell kept saying that he did not think in terms of red lines, and that he was perfectly comfortable with his stance.

This was about as close as we will get to seeing what McConnell is, not that we could not know that from his actions over the years, but maybe this, if enough people see it, will make it clear to them. McConnell does not behave in terms of morality, the concept of a higher good. His “morality” is winning and power. Anything which gets that for him, is “right,” and those who do not do that, i.e., the Democrats, are suckers and losers whom he will stomp on and dismiss.

When Justice Scalia suddenly died, the Supreme Court “swing seat” was suddenly Obama’s to control. But not so fast. McConnell was not going to allow that. He did the only thing that he could think of, to keep Obama from getting a nominee confirmed, he was not going to let him or her have a hearing. That was a bridge further than anyone had gone, except for 1866, when after Lincoln’s assassination, a Republican-controlled Senate would not let Andrew Johnson appoint the next Justice.

Since then, the Constitutional dictate of Senate “advise and consent,” meant that the Senate had the right and responsibility to question and vote on the nominee. If they voted against him, the President got to choose another one. This happened to Nixon, when two of his nominees were voted down. It happened to Reagan, when Bork was voted down.

But McConnell knew that Garland would be confirmed by the Senate. Obama had picked him as a compromise, a moderate and highly respected jurist. McConnell, who does not think or feel in terms of moral right or wrong, but in terms of a warlike game where all that matters is whether you win or lose, did the only thing he could do to save that seat for the Republicans, which was to not hold any hearings. And he somehow got away with it, though I think he absolutely violated the Constitution, because “advise and consent” has to be interpreted as an affirmative duty; they must act, not use it to refuse to even consider the nominee. That seems completely obvious to me.

But Obama didn’t fight it, just grumbled some, and let it go. I guess he figured Hillary would win, or he did not want to use up any of his popularity on this. Which of course ultimately led to Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett; the end of national abortion rights, the end of the Clean Water Act, the end of any Court efforts to constrain state gerrymandering. And so much more. For want of a nail…

Back to McConnell, his moral calculus does not exist, in his own words. It is like he is some kind of machine which only acts in terms of winning or losing. Whatever will win for him and Republicans, is what he does. Any other moral or historical or fairness considerations do not compute, to use Julie Newmar’s famous TV phrase.

This is both contemptible and horrifying. There is no higher value to ever appeal to with him. If Trump is the nominee, he will support him. If Trump intends to arrest and kill his political enemies, McConnell will do nothing about it, because Trump is the nominee, and it’s not his position to do anything. Bottom line, end of story, can Mitch be left to go back to work now?

How does one deal with this kind of calculating, where any means which gets you the end you want, is not only warranted, but considered by you to be cleverly ruthless? It is very difficult, but as in the science fiction stories, decent people must somehow figure out a way to defeat it, or we lose. Being upset about it, pointing out how inhuman it is, does very little good. There he is, there he will stay, and he will never do the morally right thing, only that thing which he believes will give him and the Republican Party more control, until they control everything, and it can never be taken away.

In that way, McConnell absolutely epitomizes and personifies the modern Republican Party. They care about only these things: Power, winning, control, money. McConnell is their most effective practitioner, with an unerring sense of what strategy, no matter how hypocritical, amoral, wrong, or dangerous, is the one that will get him and them those four things.

Imagine you are playing in a high stakes poker game with someone like that. You wouldn’t want to be, but maybe you have to. You know that your opponent will do anything to win, at least anything which will not get him imprisoned or executed. And in the political world, on the Right Wing side, there is nothing which will cause such consequences, so to use Dostoevsky’s term in “Crime and Punishment, “everything is permitted.”

If you are playing against him, and putting a lot of money into the pot, but then you realize that he has a better hand, all you can do is try a desperate bluff with all your money, or throw your hand away and lose a large sum. Your opponent, utterly amoral, with no sense of right and wrong other than what wins money, has other options in the reverse situation. He can try to somehow knock the cards, at least one card, off the table, which would call for a misdeal and void the hand. He could accuse you of cheating, say that you marked the cards, somehow get the arbiter to think that there was at least enough question so as to warrant a new deck and the hand being voided.

I was trying to think in those terms, this morning; what would I do, if I would do anything to win? Have a confederate by his phone, waiting for it to ring, as I surreptitiously pushed just the call button, he knowing that the one ring would mean he must call the police and report a bomb in the building, so as possibly to get the bomb squad out there, storming the building, telling everyone to get out, and then there is the chance to knock the table over in the melee, or at least a few cards, to invalidate the hand? If it were the Wild West, shoot the other player and get out and ride away?

Anything else? Those are the terms they think in. It does remind me of a story, actually touching, in a wonderful book I had, “One for the Book,” a series of true stories from the pages of sports, by the great announcer, Sam Balter, and Cy Rice. One of these involved an aging tennis player who was beloved by an older fan who had been with him his entire career. And in a big match indoors, the fan could see that his hero was tired, and was going to lose; so he went behind the stands and lit a little fire, the smoke from which filled the hall, and forced a long delay. And the player got his legs back for a while, but then tired again, and the police were still there, and his biggest fan could not do anything more , and so he lost.

I remember that story ,because of its poignancy. There was a fan, doing the wrong thing, of course, but trying to do anything to have his idol win one more big match. McConnell and the Republicans would do things like that and not even feel guilty about them. They probably would poison people, try to get the cult to assassinate them, all toward the implementation of their goals.

Am I being too extreme here, as to what they would do to win? Maybe, but I don’t think so. McConnell said that he did not think in terms of red lines or bottoms, they were not part of his mental calculus. He said that Trump was greatly responsible for the January 6 events which, although he would not say it, almost led to many killings, and the end of our democracy, but that he would definitely support Trump again if he were the nominee. What kind of mind, what kind of soul, sees and feels the world in that way?

And that is what we are up against, not just in the midterms, but in 2024, and beyond. Why would it ever change? I saw some of the few decent Republicans left in punditry or media, say things on TV last year, that the only way to end this madness was for the voters to defeat the Republicans in power so decisively, that they would start to disappear. I thought that this was at least possible, but it seems as if they are not only surviving, but becoming even more radical. This could be the end of some entity in nature, but Republicans have such a favorable political system to manipulate, and so much money, and so much media control, that they may well gain even more power.

Do Democrats have to think and act like Republicans do? It seems like a purely academic question, because Democrats are not like that, it is not in their nature, it seems, though it may have been more so, in say, 1930-1970. Now, it is “we go high,” and seemingly, it is better to “lose'” gracefully, like Gore in 2000, than to claw and fight and try to do anything to “win” like Trump and his followers in 2021. Imagine if the Supreme Court had declared Gore the winner; Republicans would have literally stormed Washington, there were plans for them to do that. Imagine if RBG had died a few weeks before the election, and Trump tried to nominate a Far Right judge….oh, yes, that so tragically happened, and we saw how it played out.

There is a pattern that only the most naive or bewildered person could fail to see. Republicans will use any mechanism, actual or invented, to win. You cannot reason with them, plead with them, appeal to morality and decency, of which they have none.

You have to either play against them in a similar hardball fashion, or somehow find a nice way to convince a vast majority of the electorate how evil and dangerous they are. If you cannot do that, then you will not beat them by continually adhering to your sense of morality and fairness, and then being frustrated that they are not doing any of that.

Mitch McConnell not only just told the country that again, he also essentially said that if the Republicans won the Senate in 2022, and Biden tried to nominate another Justice to the Supreme Court, he would not give them a hearing, as with Garland. He then said that he didn’t want to get ahead of things, but he meant that, and it was a signal to Republicans. If Biden ever gets another chance to nominate a Justice, McConnell will block him. That is exactly what McCain and Cruz and others said they would do to Hillary if she won.

This is unquestionably the Republican’s playbook now, and we ignore it or downplay it at our great peril. When they have the Presidency, their Supreme Court nominees always get hearings. Democrats hold it, and we do not get hearings if Republicans control the Senate. Play this out over some decades, and you are looking at a 9-0 Right Wing Court, it is pure mathematics. Unless they don’t want to make it so obvious, so they let the Democrats have one or two for show. They do that in totalitarian countries, too.

If every tie goes to the Republicans, there is no way that the Democrats can ever hold sufficient power to change the ineradicable course of the country toward totalitarianism. If that sounds awful, and it does, then we had darn well better stop ceding the ties to them. We could have stopped Rehnquist, Kennedy, and Thomas, had the Democratic Majority Leader not held hearings. But we always do, and now they are saying they will never do. This simply cannot go on. If they are going to play those cards, then we must do so as well, if we actually intend to hold meaningful political power. McConnell is arrogant enough to tell us what he is going to do, do we need more proof?

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2 Responses

  1. he did not want to use up any of his popularity on this. Which of course ultimately led to Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett;

    and ultimately it was Obama and his rabid 2008 fans who gave us Trump

    How does one deal with this kind of calculating, where any means which gets you the end you want, is not only warranted, but considered by you to be cleverly ruthless?

    Sadly, for most of us there is no legal way for us to deal with the likes of Mitch McConnell. In the past (pre Reagan) there might have been hope for the party to do something… those days are long gone. Honorable Republican is an oxymoron.

    Am I being too extreme here, as to what they would do to win?

    Absolutely not… Gretchen Whitmer is a case in point where the rabid GOP followers were willing to break the law.

    There is a pattern that only the most naive or bewildered person could fail to see. Republicans will use any mechanism, actual or invented, to win. You cannot reason with them, plead with them, appeal to morality and decency, of which they have none.

    Sadly this is true, and I don’t see that there is any way out.

    The cause IMO is the 40+ year effort to dumb down Americans which has been effective beyond my wildest fears. In the beginning I though, they are pissing in the wind because Democrats will not be duped by this… BUT with the confluence of better marketing techniques, and the internet, manifested by Talk Radio and Social Media it turned out that they didn’t have to worry about dumbing down everyone just their own, who are now so pliable they will believe almost anything. Maybe there are a few Republicans out there who still think for themselves, but they are unwilling to leave the party, and even if they did, and the Democrats embraced them, they would simply drag the Democratic party even further to the right than it already is.

    If every tie goes to the Republicans, there is no way that the Democrats can ever hold sufficient power to change the ineradicable course of the country toward totalitarianism.

    It’s actually worse… because even a close loss now is ruled a Republican victory… see Bush v Gore.

    • I appreciate your thoughtful comments, jmac. It has been a rather easy path to trace, where the Republicans and the media demanded Democrats always be “fair,” never take advantage of superior numbers, always follow precedents. But the Republicans get to trample all the precedents, looking for some radical maneuver to get their way, and they are called smart and clever for it. Put more simply, Republicans cheat and violate the Constitution, Democrats must never even suggest anything that goes one iota further than the way it had always been.

      Republicans were thoroughly willing to never approve one Hillary Supreme Court nomination. Ted Cruz said that there was precedent for a 4-4 court. But Democrats are morally required to bring a Republican nominee to a hearing, even if they control the Senate. George Mitchell thought so, and refused to allow a filibuster on Thomas. He didn’t even imagine not bringing the nomination to the floor. Had he done that, the media would have called for his removal, it would have been the biggest story every day, they would have demanded that everyone vote Republican to get rid of him as Majority Leader. McConnell does it, and the media talks about how clever he is. The only possible thing for us to do, is to play it as ruthlessly as they do. It is unseemly and unfortunate, but it is better than graciously giving them all the power.

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