McConnell Backtracks

Maybe his title should be "Minority Follower."

Maybe his title ought to be "Minority Follower."
Source: The White House

After several attempts at strong words aimed at President Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted with 45 other Republicans to object to the House’s impeachment article. Via the NYT: McConnell Was Done With Trump. His Party Said Not So Fast.

For Mr. McConnell, a leader who derives his power in large part from his ability to keep Republicans unified, defying the will of his members would have been a momentous risk, putting his own post in peril and courting the ire of the far right.

[…]

“Let’s face it: Many of the people there — they want to be re-elected, most of them,” said Bob Corker, a former Republican senator from Tennessee who retired in 2018 after clashing with Mr. Trump. “For those people, whose service in the Senate is their entire life, I’m sure just what they are hearing back home has an effect on them.”

This is a clear illustration of two principles. First, office-holder privilege re-election above all else almost all of the time. Second, American parties are nonhierarchical, meaning the party leadership has scant power over the re-election of their members (a point I made in my recent post on primaries). And, therefore, limited influence over their behavior.

In contrast, I would point to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expelling 21 Members of Parliament from the Conservative Party because they wouldn’t vote the way he wanted regarding Brexit. They remained in Parliament but became independents from a party POV. That meant that they could not run as Conservatives for re-election. It effectively killed their chances of being re-elected, and thus ended their careers. Johnson’s ability to disaffiliate those MPs is an illustration of the power of party label and why it is so important to understand that party leadership in the US does not control the label.

This was dramatic because, again, politicians tend to do what it takes to be re-elected.

Republicans in the House and Senate are currently scrambling to bolster their political fortunes vis-a-vis their supporters in their home states and districts. And since that often means pleasing a vocal and more fringe segment of their primary electorate, they clearly feel the need to double-down on Trump. And so here we are.

At a minimum, McConnell’s ability to be “the leader” is limited. And it also show that all the “serious” Republicans who thought they could control Trump and all that he has unleashed were dead wrong. The problem is that as the GOP becomes more engulfed in this nonsense, the worse off the country is.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, Mitch McConnell, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    To lead is to risk. The risk-averse cannot lead.

    21
  2. Kathy says:

    I’m reminded of a bit of dialogue in one of Asimov’s robot novels, I think Robots and Empire, in which a character says the outer worlds are content to follow Aurora’s lead.

    “And if we choose not to lead?” the other character asks.

    The first one answers, “They will hide their relief that we’re not leading.”

    2
  3. Andy says:

    First, office-holder privilege re-election above all else almost all of the time.

    Yep, and for McConnell, it’s not just about reelection – it’s about his ability to maintain his position as the Senate Minority Leader. No one in a leadership position lasts for long if they vote contrary to the majority of Senators/Representatives in their party.

    4
  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    McConnell’s ‘leadership’ has long been tied to his ability to raise money for those senators up for reelection and working to deny funds to possible challengers. With large numbers of corporate and private contributors, withholding contributions, McConnell’s got nothing and he looks weak.

    There are two potentially items of good news for Dems in this, one being that Trump may succeed in making the 22 midterms about him and Schumer has another crack in the R party that he can work for votes for Biden’t agenda.

    5
  5. Joe says:

    While I generally agree with Andy, given that McConnell was just reelected to a 6-year term, I think his caving on this has far more to do with keeping his position in the Republican Senate caucus than keeping his Senate seat. How this decision will play in 6 years in Kentucky is unknowable. That it could lead to his unseating as the leader of the Republican caucus is pretty clear. Who knows; it may already have.

    Nevertheless, McConnell is on record attributing the mob action to Trump. It will be a pretty craven trick to concede that Trump sicced a mob on the first branch of government (and all that attack entailed) and then say that it is not an impeachable offense.

    1
  6. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:

    First, office-holder privilege re-election above all else almost all of the time.
    Yep, and for McConnell, it’s not just about reelection – it’s about his ability to maintain his position as the Senate Minority Leader.

    There’s a fissure in these two ideas where pressure could be applied to help the establishment regain control of the GOP asylum. Ex-Senator Flake and newly announced soon-to-be Ex-Senator Portman have shown in their willingness to give up their re-election that there are limits for at least some politicians as to what they are willing to countenance to stay in power. Say Portman’s retirement costs the GOP a Senator from Ohio the way Flake’s retirement cost a seat in Arizona, what then?

    McConnell won’t be persuaded when called out on principles or consistency. But, more moderate Republican Senators can be and they are apt to agitate like Romney or leave like Portman. If McConnell sees his path to regaining the Majority Leader job is enlarging the GOP tent over doubling down with the base, only then will he chose that path.

  7. @Andy: @Joe: To be clear, I agree that McConnell is following the lead of his conference to maintain his position in the party, but this connects to reelection because that is what is driving the behavior of the conference.

    2
  8. Hal_10000 says:

    This is one of the reasons I wish they’d impeached him the night of the 6th. I think McConnell would have supported it and they might have the votes. With more time came more excuse-making and more reasons to chicken out of doing the right thing.

    5
  9. Kathy says:

    @Hal_10000:

    January six was impossible, as the task on everyone’s minds was to finish certifying the election.

    Granted, impeachment could have come on the seventh or eighth, and the article sent to the Senate that same day. By then, though Mitch had indicated the Senate would not be back in session until the 19th. More important, an impeachment trial is supposed to be fair, not summary justice. So there would have been the need to give the Orange ass time to prepare a defense. I just don’t see how a trial could have been held before trump left office, not outside a movie script.

    I wonder, though, if any big donors could state they’ll cut off any Senator who does not vote for conviction. Probably not. Probably it would be seen as a way to interfere with the prerogatives of the Senate (which donors do all the time, mostly within the rules). they could say it privately to some, then publicly after the vote.

    One thing is for sure: Nixon must have gone superluminal spinning in his grave by now. I’d check for temporal anomalies in the grounds of the Nixon library.

    5
  10. dazedandconfused says:

    It’s probably too soon. Their constituency has been radicalized by four years plus of Trump, FOX, et al. If it’s to fade it’ll take more than a couple weeks.

    1
  11. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Some of the biggest donors have already cut off funds to the Republican Party in the wake of the January 6 sacking of the Capitol: Amazon, Blue Cross, Morgan Stanley, Comcast, Verizon, Marriott, Dow, AT&T…

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    Back in the day – defined here as the middle ages – if you were a leader, a lord, a baron, a prince, and you wanted to mix it up with your counterpart across the river, you sharpened your sword and slipped into your chainmail. That was leadership.

    Eventually society and warfare became too complex to have the head of state getting one-on-one stabby, and from then on the idea of leadership has been degraded to the point where now leadership is quite literally the avoidance of leadership.

    3
  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Republicans have lost their ability to think strategically. It is simply not possible to be the party of Jim Crow and the party of Wall Street. Racism is not good for business. Uncertainty and upheaval are not good for business. Isolationism, science denial, not to mention domestic terrorism, are all really bad for business. Given a choice whether to side with the educated coastal elites or. . . well, any other subset of Americans really, the ECE wins.

    But short term they’re doing the short-term smart thing: sticking with their voter base and Fox News.

    I don’t think business is just pretending to cut the Republicans off, I think there’s divorce in the air. They don’t like taxes, they don’t like regulations, but they know they cannot survive in the dystopian world envisioned by the GOP. If I was Amazon, Apple, Citibank or even Exxon, and deciding where to spend a million dollars in PAC donations, I’d work the middle – some moderate Republicans, but more importantly, moderate Democrats.

    Republicanism in this foulest of all iterations is incompatible with the future, and the future is where all the profits lie.

    10
  14. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK:

    Some of the biggest donors have already cut off funds to the Republican Party in the wake of the January 6 sacking of the Capitol: Amazon, Blue Cross, Morgan Stanley, Comcast, Verizon, Marriott, Dow, AT&T…

    This is good. But I fear the supposedly liberal MSM will fail to report on them if they wait several months and renege. Which they will if they estimate GOPs will take back the House and/or Senate in ’22.

    2
  15. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It is simply not possible to be the party of Jim Crow and the party of Wall Street.

    “Jim Crow” read broadly, ie, many of the social conservatives’ positions. For someone running a corporate giant, they have to think twice about keeping major offices in states headed that way. Certainly during my years inside giant corporations, management didn’t want to worry about people turning down promotions and laterals for things like “my marriage is illegal in the state where you want me to live.” Some years back, Alabama had the headquarters for nine (I think, doing this from memory) Fortune 500 companies. I believe that’s down to three now, and those are tied to the state in some fashion.

    Back in the days when Amazon’s HQ2 was the object of speculation, I made this same argument and said Amazon wouldn’t choose a blue city in a red state.

    3
  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Joe:

    It will be a pretty craven trick (for McConnell) to concede that Trump sicced a mob on the first branch of government (and all that attack entailed) and then say that it is not an impeachable offense.

    And water needs to be wet to flow downhill. Somehow I don’t think McConnell sees this as a difficulty.

    3
  17. Gustopher says:

    @Joe:

    Nevertheless, McConnell is on record attributing the mob action to Trump. It will be a pretty craven trick to concede that Trump sicced a mob on the first branch of government (and all that attack entailed) and then say that it is not an impeachable offense.

    It’s an impeachable offense, but is it a convictable offense? Opinions differ.

    McConnell stepped out ahead of his party when he called it an impeachable offense, and failed to recognize how quickly and completely the Republicans would try to shove this entire unfortunate happenstance down the memory hole to be forgotten.

    And, in 2024, there will likely be a Trump on the ballot, probably Don Jr. claiming that we need someone to run the country like a safari or something.

    4
  18. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Such short term thinking. Do any of these supposed Republicans who want to free the party from Trump think it will be easier as we approach 2022 and 2024?

    I bet McConnell is praying as hard or harder than anyone that Trump’s McDonald’s habit finishes him off as soon as possible.

  19. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Junior doesn’t strike me as capable of parricide.

    Ivanka, maybe. But not Junior.

    1
  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Back in the days when Amazon’s HQ2 was the object of speculation, I made this same argument and said Amazon wouldn’t choose a blue city in a red state.

    For the back office, IT functions, they chose Nashville, which is a blue city in a red state.

  21. Michael Cain says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    No argument. But they didn’t get “the talent” designing the next generation of services, or who to buy out, or the fulfillment center automation, in Nashville. Or Austin. Or Atlanta. Metro Denver didn’t get HQ2, or server farms, but got a boatload of high-paid staff designing services and automation.

  22. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    Junior doesn’t strike me as capable of parricide.

    All I know is that I wouldn’t trust him with a parrot.

    Anyway, I think Old Man Trump wont be able to run at that point, either infirm or just plain dead, and if he is around and at all cogent, he will easily be convinced that even better than being president is forming a dynasty like the Kennedys or the Bushes. Good genes and all that. Plus, less work on his part.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    To lead is to risk. The risk-averse cannot lead.

    While I absolutely get the incentives that Steven outlines in the post, I’ve never really understood the attraction of having a job but not being able to do it. Being a Senator, much less a Senate leader, is a low-paying grind. I don’t know why you’d want it if all you’re going to do is put your finger to the wind for six years.

    1
  24. james hunt says:

    McConnell is part of the swamp that Trump had a lot of criminating evidence!!!He got real close to a lot of Republicans and they got scared and sold out to Satan!!! Without Trump the Republicans will not win any election! The things that Republicans better hope for is::: He does not start a new party! 2. he stays healthy.3. Trump supports Republican candidates! 4. Trumps family stays involved.5 He does not expose all the criminal and backstabbing Republicans and what they did and are doing as he expose the left for four years!!!!! Go Trump i am for the new AMERICAN PATRIOT PARTY which will have 74,000,000,members off the bat plus all the right Democrat Party that hates socialism!!!! That leaves the Democrats Unions, teachers, communist ,socialist, BLM,KKK,ANTIFA Atheist, America Hating and all the weird’os! That is all that is left!!! signed one of the 74,000,000 real people!!!!! Go Trump Go American Patriot Party!!!!!

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @james hunt:
    Parody? Or are you in need of psychological help?

    2
  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Indeed they split the project, but I’d be careful claiming that the ‘talent’ went to Virginia and by implication the slugs went to Nashville. IIRC, the IT back office was ~25,000 people and from my experience those ‘back office’ types are damned smart at what they do and the creative talent has no concept of how to make their grand ideas operational and are beholden to the back office for success.

  27. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: Mitch McConnell’s net worth is estimated at 34 million. The salary may not be much, but there are perks.

    2
  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    People crave significance. To be known, to be seen as important. Status. Their need for significance is so great they’ll seek it even if they lack the ability to do anything more than diminish another person’s significance. Mitch McConnell is a tapeworm – significant only because he weakens the body he infests.

    Few things in life served me as well as cleaning homes and offices for a living. Perhaps the lowest status job you can have. A year after quitting that, I was a newspaper’s restaurant review columnist, respected, even feared. From zero status to significant status and nothing about me had changed.

    A lot of people spend a lot of their lives chasing things of no real value.

  29. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @james hunt:

    James – Good to have you here! Definitely want to hear what you have to say.

    OK, so: What is the platform of the American Patriot Party?

    What is the plans for fiscal policy? How will they accomplish economic expansion? What about Social Security, Medicare? What about the role in the world? Military? Trade?

    How will your pay for this?

    Politics has always been about power, speciically the power to collect and spend money. What are the plans?

    Don’t tell me what you are against… tell me what you are FOR, and how these will benefit our constitutional republic.

    Seriously, if you have a better way, let us know, we are all open to ideas here.

    1
  30. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    Yep. That’s it in a nutshell. Follow the money.

  31. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    If you click on James Hunt’s name, it links to a site that sells women’s underwear.

    1
  32. dmichael says:

    @Joe: Craven = Senator Moscow Mitch. Watch him ignore what he said before and then say proudly something opposite. Kevin McCarthy has already done it.

  33. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @james hunt:
    Two questions:
    What is the party platform of the AMERICAN PATRIOT PARTY?
    Define Socialism, without looking it up.

  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    A guy like @james hunt looks around at his circumstances, and at the people he knows, and he thinks ‘Yes, we right here in this Arkansas trailer park, we are the True Geniuses. We see what others cannot!’

    There’s dumb that knows it’s dumb, then there’s a whole other level: the dumb who are too dumb to know they’re dumb.

  35. Joe says:

    If james hunt can really get any significant group to start that new party, I might send a check in support for the sole purpose of funding the schism.