If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over the years, it’s that he has absolutely no sense of shame or guilt. He’s a hypocrite, but he doesn’t mind if you brand him as one and chastise him for his hypocrisy.
Now, however, McConnell is facing one hell of a conundrum. And it’s not yet clear which choice he’s going to make: Does he want to make sure a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg is confirmed, or does he want to remain as leader of the Senate?
According to Jane Mayer, writing in The New Yorker, McConnell is what can best be called a “ruthless pragmatist,” and as such he dearly loves being Senate Majority Leader. And ramming through another right-wing judge to the Supreme Court threatens to endanger his control of the Senate, which would basically render him powerless and irrelevant. That’s his biggest fear and his greatest weakness:
“The problem for McConnell now is that it may be impossible for him to both confirm a new Justice and hold onto his personal power as Majority Leader. A power grab for the Court that is too brutish may provoke so much outrage among Democrats and independents that it could undermine Republican Senate candidates in November.”
If McConnell accomplishes tilting the court further to the right, it will likely energize Democrats and independents who don’t want to see the country return to the past on any number of issues such as abortion, race relations, executive power, and the environment.
Even worse for McConnell would be losing the Senate and watching as Democrats pay him and Republicans back for their own hardball tactics by eliminating the filibuster, expanding the Supreme Court by several seats, and packing the lower courts with progressive judges, which would destroy everything he’s worked to hard to put in place over his decades in the Senate. As Mayer notes:
“Senator Tim Kaine, of Virginia, who is ordinarily a mainstream Democrat, has said he could support enlarging the court as a tactic, if the Republicans force a confirmation vote. The Democratic senator Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, and Congressman Jerry Nadler, of New York, have also embraced the idea.”
So what’s McConnell to do? In a sense, he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. And in politics, that’s an untenable position that requires a trade-off. Is Mitch willing to risk being little more than an antiquated ornament if Democrats win the election? No matter what choice he makes, he’s likely condemning the GOP to decades in the political wilderness and possibly dooming Trump, too.
The weeks ahead will be ugly. But for Mitch McConnell, they could wind up being the beginning of his days as a power player in Washington.