A Republican plan to beat McConnell

Aug 5, 2020 at 9:41 am
Father’s Day

Maybe you have seen the #RichMitch ad on local TV or online.

“He spent most of his time making deals for himself, not so much for Kentucky. Mitch didn’t have money when he went to Washington 35 years ago. Today, he’s one of the richest guys up there.” The seventh wealthiest U.S. Senator, in fact, according to OpenSecrets.org, with an estimated net worth over $34 million.

One might expect this kind of attack ad to come from Mitch McConnell’s opponent, Amy McGrath, or any number of progressive, Democratic groups — but not a group of Republicans. Yet, The Lincoln Project — a group of national, establishment Republicans — is coming after Republican Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

The group announced its effort in December 2019 with a New York Times op-ed from founders George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson — all longtime Republicans (Steve Schmidt was a senior strategist in John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign). The mission: Defeat Trump and Trumpism.

As of July 15, it had raised almost $20 million and had spent about $8.5 million. So, why are they going after McConnell, arguably, the most powerful Republican in the country?

While the group’s primary mission is to defeat Donald Trump, usurping the Republican majority in the Senate is critical to defeating Trumpism. Or, if Trump is reelected, undermining his powers through defeating his Republican enablers in the Senate is a contingency strategy. One way or another, The Lincoln Project is coming after McConnell and other Republican Senators in the upcoming election.

“From the beginning, it was founded to beat Trump and the people who enable him, which is primarily U.S. Senators, led by Mitch McConnell,” Chris Vance, senior advisor with the Lincoln Project, told me.

Vance indicated that the group sees McConnell’s race as competitive, and it is prepared to run a full media campaign to beat him. “It’s pretty clear from the meetings that The Lincoln Project is going to continue to drive out a message about Mitch McConnell throughout this cycle. And he’s one of the Senate races that is competitive.” He said the specifics of where and how much money would be spent are decisions made by the group’s founders.

“I don’t know if you use the word vulnerable or not, but I certainly think you use the word competitive. In fact, I don’t know if there are any safe Republicans now, at this point … because, by following Donald Trump, they’ve made the entire brand toxic.” The group’s ads are amazing.

Some are poignant and heart-wrenching, while others are wildly funny productions of satire when appropriate. Shaming Trump on a personal, visceral level, through patriotic appeals on behalf of service members and veterans, for example, is one line of attack.

On the other hand, the group has ads strictly designed to humiliate and embarrass him: Trump wants to paint Joe Biden as the mentally unfit candidate? There’s a video, titled “Trumpfeld,” a “Seinfeld”-themed, satire ad comprising clips of Trump’s incoherent ramblings in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Unfortunately for us Kentuckians, the group is going to run the ad only on TV in the Washington D.C. market, just so the president sees it. You can see “Trumpfeld” “#RichMitch” and all the Lincoln Project videos at lincolnproject.us

So what’s behind #RichMitch? “The strategy is to deliver effective messages, and that means you don’t pull your punches and you tell the truth,” Vance told me. “… And you need to say what voters are already thinking or what the obvious message is. So, with Mitch McConnell it’s: He’s been in Washington D.C. for a thousand years. He’s gotten rich there. He’s the ultimate swampy insider. Those are the obvious messages, and so you take those and you drive them home … With Mitch McConnell it’s: His lifestyle is way out of step with the people he represents.”

#RichMitch ends with exactly that message: “After 35 years, Kentuckians are still waiting for the kinds of opportunities Mitch worked so hard to give himself,” the ad continues. “With another six years of Mitch McConnell, from the holler to the horse farm, we’ll still be waitin’. And Mitch? He’ll just be richer.”

It’s unclear whether McConnell will be as irritated and nervous about the brand of “Rich Mitch” as he was with “Moscow Mitch,” but it’s an effective attack message for a campaign. And, let’s face it, Rich Mitch and Moscow Mitch aren’t necessarily unrelated.

But, coming from Republicans, perhaps Rich Mitch is more effective than Democrats continuing to yell at the wind about how desperately the country depends on retiring McConnell.