Give me 15 more months and I might die a happy political junkie. Of course it’s too early to authoritatively call the U.S. Senate race that everybody‘s talking about. But I’ll struggle to survive a protracted carpet-bombing of political ads for the chance to see Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes retire Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
This past weekend’s annual Fancy Farm picnic offers a glimpse of how that could happen. Republican candidate Matt Bevin exceeded all expectations. Pundits cast him as a highly unlikely nominee. But he could be a spectacular spoiler. “Nobody gave a better speech here today,” said veteran political journalist Al Cross on KET. “People all across the country will see this and say, ‘I’m gonna write this guy a check.’”
McConnell had checked out. Vacating the stage early as usual, Cross noted, may have been disadvantageous given that Bevin seized the moment to turn the hound dogs McConnell famously used — in TV spots to beat former Sen. Walter “Dee” Huddleston — against their owner. “It’s like a 30-year flashback. Instead of ‘Where’s Dee?,’ it’s ‘Where’s Mitch?,’” Bevin said. “The people of Kentucky have been wondering that for a long time — on both sides of the aisle.”
Bevin led a “Where’s Mitch?” chant that should resonate throughout the campaign. For example, where was Mitch when the middle class was shrinking? Fighting like hell to sustain tax breaks for the wealthy — and getting richer alongside other congressional power-brokers who controlled the flow of corporate legislation and invested in a legal form of insider trading.
McConnell hoped to foreclose a serious primary challenge when he hired Tea Party darling Jesse Benton as his campaign manager. When Bevin entered the race, Benton called him “merely an East Coast con man,” thus inflaming Tea Party members who know better. It all highlights the tightrope McConnell walks as he seeks to eviscerate an opponent without splitting the wings of the GOP. Bevin’s Fancy Farm finesse shows that he’s intellectually equipped for a battle royal. If he keeps kicking McAss with abandon, McConnell could emerge from next May’s primary even less popular.
McConnell’s recent missteps beg the question of whether he’s lost his shrewd groove. Last December, he ignominiously filibustered his own bill after Democrats called his bluff on the debt ceiling. At last Saturday’s picnic, Grimes referenced a “tough month for him,” recalling reports of “the entire (Republican) caucus going around him to accomplish filibuster reform.”
McConnell isn’t having much fun lately amid a losing streak. He lost his bid to scuttle Obama’s re-election, and he’s failing miserably in his quest to undo the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he calls a disaster.
But “if Republicans are so confident Obamacare will end badly, why not just shut up about it?” asks The Daily Beast’s John Favreau. “Why not sit back and wait for this crazy experiment to self-destruct? Why not let President Obama and the Democrats reckon with the millions of angry Americans who will undoubtedly hate their new insurance or their new insurance protection? Because Republicans are terrified that Obamacare could actually work.”
McConnell’s blood feud with the president is driven by his wettest dream. A less popular Obama improves McConnell’s chance of becoming majority leader. “We’re not just deciding who represents Kentucky in the Senate. We’re going to be deciding who runs the Senate,” he fantasized at Fancy Farm. That’s not such a bad thing — if you want a mega-dose of more-of-the-same.
Dr. Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told KET that Grimes’ success may depend on Obama. “Grimes needs to hope that President Obama does not become any more unpopular in Kentucky. That could sink her alone,” he said, adding that she must distance herself from Obama without alienating her base.
Despite McConnell’s best attempts to equate the two, Kentuckians will realize it’s a parlor trick perfected by the mother of all madams in the whorehouse that is Congress. Grimes can prevail by running against the poster boy for the GOP, “Gridlock, Obstruction and Partisanship,” in D.C., the “Dysfunctional Capital,” as she defines those acronyms.
We are tired of being sickened by our rotting body politic. Kentucky history has come full circle — from Henry Clay, The Great Compromiser, to Mitch McConnell, The Great Constipator. Let us survive 15 more months of flatulence and irregularity.