Conservatives have been hostile toward Mitch McConnell for a long, long time. Part of the problem is that he hardly even pretends to be an ideologue: He’s an old-school deal-cutter and string-puller whose idol is Henry Clay, not Barry Goldwater or even Ronald Reagan. More importantly, he’s a political realist who doesn’t believe in making futile gestures to further the Cause. And because he owes his loyalties to his party rather than to any doctrine, he in turn refuses to act as an ideological commissar against members of his conference who offend conservatives. And so, like virtually all party leaders, when ideologues tried to “purge” one of his senators, he brings every bit of influence he has to bear on defending them — sometimes unsuccessfully, as in Alabama on September 26, when Luther Strange lost to a particularly extreme conservative who pledged to help topple McConnell.
While it’s hardly new, conservative animus toward McConnell is now reaching white-hot levels, fed in part by the belief that McConnell’s not just a RINO, but a living obstacle to Donald J. Trump. Former White House chief strategist and Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon has let it be known that he and his journalistic and financial allies are waging war not just on McConnell, but on any Republican senator up for reelection in 2018 who does not promise to abandon the Leader. And now comes an open letter from six right-wing leaders addressing McConnell and his entire Senate leadership team in language normally reserved for the bitterest of political enemies, if not history’s great monsters.
2017 has been a disappointing year for the millions of Americans who fully expected, and had every right to expect real change in Washington. Republicans were given full control of the federal government. They — you — have done nothing. Worse, it is painfully clear that you intend to do nothing because, as is most apparent, you had no intention of honoring your solemn commitments to the American people. You were not going to “drain the swamp.” You are the swamp.
It gets worse.
You and the rest of your leadership team were given the majority because you pledged to stop the steady flow of illegal immigration. You’ve done nothing. You pledged to reduce the size of this oppressive federal government. You have done nothing. You pledged to reduce, and ultimately eliminate the out-of-control deficit spending that is bankrupting America. You have done nothing. You promised to repeal Obamacare, “root and branch.” You’ve done nothing. You promised tax reform. You’ve done nothing.
You don’t even show up for work.
This last bit of snark is a reference to a Senate schedule designed to let GOP senators go home most weekends and have regular recesses, mostly for purposes of campaigning.
The letter goes on and on, citing the Senate leadership’s “betrayal” on repealing Obamacare — “the single most devastating piece of legislation against freedom ever crafted” — its gutlessness on fighting abortion, its emphasis on rewarding donors through “legalized bribery,” and its “vicious, continuous, merciless attacks on grassroots Republicans.” Again and again, the letter implies that McConnell & Co. are not just incompetent but are actively evil, and willing to sacrifice party interests so long as they can keep conservatives from too much influence:
We remember your support for Arlen Specter, for Charlie Christ over Marco Rubio, and for Planned Parenthood’s favorite Independent candidate, (chairman) Lisa Murkowski over GOP nominee Joe Miller in Alaska in 2010.
Reading along, you half-expect the letter to end with a demand that McConnell and his “Gang of 5” (leadership members John Cornyn, John Thune, Roy Blunt, and John Barrasso) be drawn and quartered. Instead, it simply ends with the abrupt conclusion: “America is too good for you to lead it.”
Now the signatories of his long, long nasty-gram include some veteran cranks like Richard Viguerie and not one but two Bozells. But there are three others who lead organizations with some political clout: Ken Cuccinelli of the Senate Conservatives Fund, Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots, and Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks.
As it happens, this last organization, FreedomWorks, actually rates Members of Congress on their voting records. After reading this almost existential denunciation of McConnell, Cornyn, Thune, Blunt, and Barrasso, I thought it might be interesting to look at how they’ve done this year.
Turns out that based on 17 “key votes,” FreedomWorks gives Mitch McConnell a 77 rating so far this year. Cornyn is a bit lower at 71, as is Thune. Blunt’s at 74. And Barrasso is at 82. None of the Gang of Five is perfect from FreedomWorks’s perspective, but this is hardly the bunch of lefty Trump-hating RINOs the letter makes them out to be.
Maybe all that betraying and bribing and promise-breaking and sympathy for baby-killers and persecution of conservatives has somehow co-existed with votes for conservative legislation. More likely, the groups that signed the letter want power for people who obey their strategic and tactical directives, not just their policy views. Mitch McConnell’s real sin in their eyes is that he does not bother to hide his contempt for people like the signatories of this letter calling for his hide, and is not about to let them tell him how to run the Senate. And so he and his friends must go, and now.
It’s an interesting coincidence that this letter was released the same day McConnell took action to promote one of the most important objectives of conservative ideologues: the reshaping of the federal judiciary. It won’t be enough to get the horns off his photo in the offices of the groups demanding his defenestration. But it’s another illustration of how tough this crowd is to please.