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Bill Straub: Will McConnell maintain majority leader status, even if he defeats his Democrat opponent?

To the vast relief of a grateful but beleaguered nation, Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch” McConnell, has made it clear that, should the good folks of Kentucky choose to return him to the upper chamber for the seventh time this November, he would be more than willing to continue to serve as capo di tutti capi of the GOP caucus, whether it maintains its majority for another two years or not.

McConnell, of Louisville, alias Moscow Mitch, the Gravedigger of Democracy and assorted other non de plumes, has already served as the party’s swashbuckling leader for a record 13-plus years, helping lead the nation to greater depths than anyone could have imagined when he was first elected as a moderate voice in 1984.

Since then he has emerged as the primary enabler for President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, playing the Fool to Trump’s Lear and earning a reputation for soiling the chamber by abusing the filibuster while serving in the minority, killing legislation from the House with no regard for propriety as it ventured down to his side of the Capitol, and directing the fight for the appointment of federal judges who barely possess the qualifications to serve as jurists for an ugly dog contest at a West Virginia kill shelter.

Boy, good thing he’s agreed to re-seek the job, huh?

McConnell’s grip on the Senate majority is beginning to look a bit ephemeral. Incumbents up and down the line, from Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, to Sen. Martha McSally, R-AZ, an emerging nutcase, find themselves with something of a sticky wicket five months before the ultimate showdown, trailing Democratic challengers in what once appeared to be safe seats.

One of the GOP’s problems this go-round is the number of seats it has to defend. Of the 35 spots on the ballot in November, 23 are currently held by Republicans, with Democrats defending a mere 12. That math always provides the minority with some opportunities for pick-ups. Given that the party’s Senate majority is 53-45 with two independents caucusing with Democrats, Mitch’s authority could be seen as a bit tentative.

Another problem is the man on top of the ticket, the orange windbag who seems to be sliding into LaLa Land at a quicker pace on a daily basis. Most polls show him trailing his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, by double digits as his popularity swirls down the toilet. A New York Times/Siena College poll released on Wednesday showed Biden with support from 50 percent of the registered voters questioned, compared to 36 percent for The Donald. Other surveys offer similar results. And after the incumbents 3½ years in office, the poll placed his job approval at an abysmal 41 percent.

But Trump can take heart. The results were better than the 39 percent job approval he received in the most recent Politico/Morning Consult poll. Such a drag at the top of the ticket, with Democratic turn-out already expected to exceed the 2016 count for several reasons – a plethora of mail-in ballot opportunities is in the party’s wheelhouse and a lot of folks are energized over simply dealing Trump a fatal electoral blow – will almost certainly impact some down-ticket races, like those for the Senate.

Trump is not helping himself, McConnell, or his party. Accusing his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, of treason based on the bogus claim that the administration spied on his ultimately successful 2016 campaign is a long-distance call from Crazytown. Already in a substantial hole when it comes to African-American voters, the president continues to dig deeper, assailing the Black Lives Matter movement on a seemingly continuous basis. The word is out, and spreading, that the Trump administration’s response to the covid-19 pandemic is, well, let’s just say it has left something to be desired unless you think 120,000 dead Americans and counting should instill a worried public with a whole lot of confidence.

The economy is in the tank – to be fair, that is not all his fault, but he didn’t deserve credit when it was humming along either. The deficit continues to grow at a startling pace and, rather than work to bring a disparate people together, he constructs barriers.

Not a pretty picture, so much so that one has to wonder what the 36 percent in the NYT poll are thinking by continuing to offer him their support. But Trump still has time to make up ground. Biden is not exactly a ball of fire and if he heads into the four-corners offense too early Trump can play catch-up in expedited fashion.
It’s also good to remember that, with Trump flailing, things are going to get ugly, perhaps historically so. By the end of the campaign it might prove impossible to discern between Donald J. Trump and the ghost of George Corley Wallace. The Marquess of Queensberry rules will be dispensed with, at least on the GOP side, post haste. Trump will almost certainly win the white vote, probably by a pretty substantial margin. He has alienated white women – he attracted 53 percent of that vote in 2016 – but white men remain a staggering force. So the scenario could change – it did four years ago.

Meanwhile, if Trump loses and Democrats assume control of both the House and Senate, McConnell – if he is re-elected – will undoubtedly find he is about as useful in the upper chamber as a screen door on a submarine. It may not happen immediately but, at some point, when Mitch starts playing his old obstruction games and the Senate slows to a crawl and can’t get anything done, majority Democrats will almost certainly deep six the filibuster.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

That would be too bad in both the short and long runs. The filibuster has had a troubled history, especially when it comes to civil rights legislation. But it has also, at least in the past, forced the majority to deal with the minority to form legislation that both sides could live with. It effectively stopped the majority from abusing the minority and provided everyone with some give and take.

It was Moscow Mitch who ruined the system, orchestrating record numbers of filibusters during the Obama administration, acknowledging at one point that his top priority was to limit the nation’s first African-American to a single term.

Unsuccessful in that endeavor, McConnell continued to refuse to play according to Hoyle. The impediments he constructed, particularly as it pertained to judicial appointments, forced Sen. Harry Reid, of Nevada, then the Democratic leader when the party held the majority, to nix the filibuster on court appointments, save for the Supreme Court. And McConnell disposed of that exemption when Republicans assumed control.

Regardless, with both legislative chambers and the White House controlled by Democrats, McConnell would quickly find himself reduced to twiddling his thumbs. Despite registering low favorability ratings with his constituents, ol’ Root-‘n-Branch will almost certainly enter the fall campaign as the heavy favorite.

Kentucky voters likely won’t learn until next week the identity of the Democrat he’ll be facing – former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, of Georgetown, state Rep. Charles Booker, of Louisville, or Mike Broihier, a Lincoln County farmer. But McConnell has been down this road before and defeating him in a state where Trump is likely to win by a sizeable margin might prove a bridge too far.

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