Yes, conservatives, please oust Mitch McConnell

The right is determined to rid itself of its single most effective legislative weapon. Good!

Published October 18, 2013 7:53PM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell                                                 (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Mitch McConnell (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

These days, angry conservatives seem to get much more excited about campaigns to punish insufficiently conservative Republicans than they do about campaigns to actually defeat Democrats. This is maybe the result of Obama's reelection, because most Republican losses in the modern era are followed by angry calls for the party to be more conservative. One of the most prominent of the groups currently capitalizing on the fervor is the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that has made a lot of money shouting fantasies about killing Obamacare. Now they are going to spend some of that money on defeating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which is a very silly thing for conservatives to spend money on.

Oh, but they hate McConnell. Conservatives hate McConnell so, so much. Erick Erickson, a reliable indicator of the mind-set of the "shout harder and we'll win!" caucus, is sending the Senate Conservatives Fund money "to help with their fight." The Senate Conservatives Fund has already been running ads attacking him for not defunding Obamacare, so endorsing his challenger is really just the logical next step.

Most of the ways in which the apocalyptic death-cult activist arm of the conservative movement is sabotaging the Republican Party will only be apparent in the medium-term future. Thanks to our political system's two-party bias, methods of House district-drawing, and the demographics of midterm and statewide electorates, the party will remain competitive for a while even as the percentage of Americans who despise Republicans grows. Stuff like the shutdown and default threat probably doesn't threaten Republican control of the House that much. Sometimes, though, conservatives try to take immediate action to lessen the actual power of their party. This is one of those times.

Notably, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the likely Democratic nominee for McConnell's seat, is currently tied or slightly ahead of McConnell in a poll conducted by (liberal but generally respected) pollsters Public Policy Polling. Forty-three percent of Kentucky Republicans opposed the government shutdown, which suggests two things: that a more conservative Republican candidate could win a primary, and that that more-conservative Republican could easily lose enough moderate Republican support in a general to throw the seat to a Democrat. According to PPP, Grimes already has the support of 18 percent of Kentucky Republicans in a race against McConnell. Republicans opposed to shutdown politics probably aren't going to be excited to vote for a "Tea Party" challenger supported by a group that spent a lot of money promoting the shutdown.

That challenger, Matt Bevin, is a long shot. He has raised $222,000. McConnell has $10 million on hand. But the Senate Conservatives Fund quickly established itself as a major player in the "drag the party to the fringe" industry. They raised $3.5 million before the shutdown and they reportedly have about $16 million to throw around. Ted Cruz -- that would be the Ted Cruz who just won the Values Voters Summit straw poll while fundraising off his role in inspiring the government shutdown -- has appeared in SCF ads and promoted its campaign to use the Obamacare fight as a means of building a fundraising list. There's still a lot of time before the primary, and conservative enthusiasm and dollars could make Bevin actually look like a credible candidate.

The campaign to take down Mitch McConnell is insane, from a conservative perspective. McConnell is the single most effective legislator Republicans have, and he's used his power to advance the interests of the conservative movement. The Senate GOP is much, much more pragmatic than the House GOP, and it contains genuine squishes, if not quite RINOs (there are not many RINOs left in the world), and these squishes have more power than any given House squish. Susan Collins' plan to end the shutdown didn't go anywhere, but it was a more serious threat to GOP unity on the fight than anything Peter King did. McConnell has spent every day since Barack Obama's first inaugural keeping those squishes in line. Thanks largely to him, the most "moderate" Republicans in the Senate have stood with the rest of party in opposition to nearly all of Barack Obama's agenda.

McConnell has negotiated with the administration and with Democrats only when he could be guaranteed a policy win, and when Republicans were doomed to lose a battle he's stopped GOP senators from jumping ship for the purposes of appearing bipartisan. Senate Republicans all voted against the stimulus, negotiated with Democrats to make Obamacare more conservative and then voted against it en masse, preserved the majority of the Bush tax cuts, including a "permanent" estate tax level that "will not hit most of the affluent anymore," and managed to make $4.5 billion in food stamp cuts palatable to Democrats. (They had an assist on that last one from House Republicans, admittedly.)

Meanwhile, and much more importantly for conservatives, he totally normalized a state of constant obstruction of Obama's administration. Routine appointments are now routinely blocked, for no reason. Thanks to McConnell, Obama's judiciary nominees have a worse confirmation record than Bush's or Clinton's as the federal judiciary vacancy rate has grown to historic highs. That's a huge deal! Obama is likely going to have a smaller impact on the courts than any two-term president in the modern era, thanks to Mitch McConnell. McConnell almost killed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and did stop Elizabeth Warren from leading it. He helped prevent the National Labor Relations Board from doing much of anything to support labor for a few years. He ensured that Obama ended his first term with 68 agency vacancies. And he did all of this without, say, causing a major constitutional crisis or even much outrage in the press outside of a few tut-tutting editorials and a bunch of angry blog posts. After all this, he begins 2013 by cutting a "deal" with Harry Reid that preserved the filibuster while also allowing Republicans to say they compromised with Democrats on their obstruction. The only major part of Obama's domestic agenda that McConnell has allowed to advance since the 2010 GOP House takeover was immigration reform, and that's a net positive for the Republican Party.

All McConnell has done is undermine and block Obama's agenda with ruthless efficiency for five years. And he's done so without becoming the sort of angry laughingstock Republican that normal Americans hate (and movement conservatives love). What has Ted Cruz done? What have Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan done? Rand Paul is trying to actually be the effective version of Ted Cruz, and what has he done?

So, yes, fund a primary campaign against Mitch McConnell. Definitely do this, conservatives. It will work out great. Even if Bevin beats McConnell and wins the seat, Republicans will have traded their best parliamentary weapon for another Mike Lee. Good strategy, everyone. "This guy sure is good at saying stuff to Sean Hannity, now we'll finally start winning all the politics, forever."

Unfortunately for liberals and for movement conservatives, McConnell seems like one of those unkillable Harry Reid types. Everyone hates him and he keeps winning. I doubt we'll be lucky enough to see him leave the Senate any time soon.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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