As this paper is being printed, America is finding out who our next president will be. Win, lose or … lose, the future of the Grand Ol’ Party is unclear. But not for Sen. Mitch McConnell or the Kentucky Republican Party.
Ever since Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, Mitch has been in a win-win-fine situation. If Trump has won the White House, Mitch will undoubtedly remain majority leader and become the living embodiment of the Wizard of Oz — the man behind the controls. Mitch’s institutional knowledge and political savvy will allow him to control Trump like a NASCAR driver behind the wheel of a golf cart.
But even if Hillary Clinton has won, as expected, it really doesn’t matter to Mitch whether the Republicans maintain control of the Senate — or even a majority of the House, for that matter. Regardless of what happens, Mitch will preserve his position as the most powerful Republican in Washington, D.C.
Despite my affinity for criticizing the old dog, the prospects of Leader McConnell are not as bad as they have been.
McConnell has never sought the limelight of Washington D.C., but rather, always seemed most content commanding the politics off-camera, behind the curtain. This presents the perfect symbiotic situation for a President Trump, who wants only the spotlight and shows no interest in governing. This scenario offers these outcomes, all likely to happen at some point over Trump’s four years:
1) McConnell uses Trump to achieve political win after political win, all the while letting Trump claim victory after victory. He would even make Trump think the policies were his own idea!
2) McConnell is the grounding force, keeping the Trump train on the tracks. Whether it is foreign engagement, trade policies or even Supreme Court nominees … Every time Trump got out of control, the country and world could feel somewhat assured Mitch wouldn’t let the kingdom he’s built be destroyed.
3) McConnell undoubtedly pisses off Trump — if he hasn’t done so already by consciously refusing to say his name when talking with the press, and telling him to apologize for his infamous “repugnant” videotaped remarks. In this instance, Mitch can easily revert to his old, obstructionist habits and completely render Trump’s small hands impotent. (Powerless … I mean powerless!)
In each case, McConnell wins. It would be the Party of Trump, but that’s OK with Mitch. All he wants is the power.
The same scenarios generally apply to McConnell during a Clinton administration, regardless of whether he is majority or minority leader.
If McConnell remains majority leader, Republicans would have also kept control of the House, and Paul Ryan would again be speaker. This gives McConnell tremendous leverage to keep his stranglehold over the legislative agenda for the next two-to-four years. Working from a position of strength, he would find an ambitious moderate-Democrat President Clinton eager to broker deals and spur legislative movement.
In the most catastrophic scenario for McConnell — the Democrats take the Senate and/or the House — he still could force Clinton and Senate Democrats to bargain. Plus, he could always revert to the obstructionist playbook, which he wrote. And while it may not be ideal — having lost power, in particular, control over the Senate rules and calendar — Clinton’s thirst for legislative wins would give him a partner closer to the center-right than under President Obama. Not that she would be a pushover (as Trump would be), but they know each other well, and Clinton would want to work with Mitch much more than did Obama. I’m sure Obama would’ve engaged in good-faith negotiations, if only McConnell were a good-faith counterpart.
It’s ironic that when Trump became the nominee, it was Mitch who could not lose. It is depressing to think Mitch will be rewarded after eight years of obstructing the Obama presidency. But there is reason to be optimistic about our senior senator. While I don’t foresee any reason to compliment him over the next four years, he will either be our best safeguard from any apocalyptic Trumpian act, or maybe (just maybe) an honest legislative counterpart to a President Clinton.