Professional Politicians Poor Prognosticators

Mitch McConnell and other senior Republican Senators foolishly believed their colleagues would do the right thing.

A new book reveals that Mitch McConnell doesn’t understand his fellow Republican Senators any better than the rest of us. And the Bulwark’s Tim Miller is rather incredulous.

So I’ve been paging through This Will Not Pass, the book by my pal Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns. And for all the SHOCKING REVEALS (with audio!) about Kevin’s cowardice, Mitch’s cravenness, and Kamala’s ennui, the thing that keeps striking me throughout is that none of the ostensible political professionals being profiled seems to understand the reality of the political situation they find themselves in.

I haven’t read the book and, indeed, am incredibly unlikely ever to do so, and will have to take Miller’s characterizations at face value. But, boy howdy:

  • On Jan. 6th, as the mob entered the Capitol, Lindsey Graham asked his fellow senators, with apparently no hint of irony: “Who could possibly hate Joe Biden?” (I don’t know, Lindsey, maybe the same base that believed a racist conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s birthplace and decided Hillary Clinton was part of a pedophile ring in the basement of a pizzeria?) Graham went on to posit that after Jan. 6th “people will say, ‘I don’t want to be associated with that.’ . . . There will be a rallying effect for a while, the country says we’re better than this.” (No, we are not.)
  • Senator Rob Portman “privately assessed that McConnell was serious about a potential conviction” of Trump. (LOL.) He also thought a censure of Trump would be supported by thirty GOP senators. And those sharp political antennae arose again after Biden was in office when he lobbied Kevin McCarthy to come around on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. McCarthy never considered doing anything that could help Biden and stopped taking Portman’s calls.
  • Just hours before the Capitol was sacked, Joe Manchin was giddy about the 50/50 Senate because he thought it would “bring bipartisanship back to the country.”
  • Steve Womack, a generic Republican house member from Arkansas, advocated for the caucus to strip Mo Brooks of his committee assignments over his speech on Jan. 6th. Womack said Republicans needed to pivot and become the “adults in the room.” (Womack voted against Trump’s impeachment. Brooks was not punished. There are no adults to be seen.)
  • Lisa Murkowski and Fred Upton agreed that the carnage of Jan. 6th was Trump’s “legacy” and that this was the moment for the party to break from Trump. (Upton is retiring.)
  • John Thune thought the Republican party had to have a reckoning about its identity “pretty soon.”
  • McConnell, that wise old crow, somehow thought that Democrats would “take care of the son of a bitch for us” even if he didn’t convict Trump in the Senate. He told the book authors that the MAGA extremist “sons of bitches” were going to be “crushed” by McConnell’s political operation during the primaries in 2022. In another scene, Joe Biden called Mitch because he hoped the Republican Leader would juggle both an impeachment and the swift confirmation of his cabinet appointees. (Sigh.)

The upside, I guess, is that McConnell, Portland, Womack, Graham, other others had good intentions for at least a fleeting moment. They never liked Trump and presumed their colleagues were likewise outraged and would have the courage of their convictions.

Alas.

Another report based on the book, from David Catanese at McClatchy, gives more detail:

In the weekend following the riot in early January 2021, McConnell is described by the authors as “in a lather, using profanity to refer to Trump,” and outlining what he saw as his “imminent demise.”

“McConnell told his advisers there would be at least 17 Senate Republicans ready to affirm Trump’s impeachment, supplying the two-thirds vote needed to convict,” Martin and Burns write.

But just a month later when the unprecedented second impeachment trial of Trump unfolded with him out of office and kicked off of Twitter, just seven GOP senators voted for Trump’s conviction and McConnell wasn’t even one of them.

The head-snapping change in the Kentuckian’s mindset is a vivid illustration of how he ultimately chose the preservation of his own power over damning condemnation of the man he said was “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol attack.

In the end, when McConnell saw most of his party falling into line with Trump, he wasn’t going to be out of step.

“I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference,” McConnell is quoted in the book.

“It wasn’t going to happen – he wasn’t going to be a leader who stood with 15 percent of the caucus,” one of McConnell’s longtime advisers added.

From a purely analytical standpoint, McConnell’s instinct here was right. Once it became clear that the caucus wasn’t going to do the right thing, it would have done him no good to stand on principle. He’d lose his position as “leader” and the outcome wouldn’t change.

But there’s something to be said for integrity and courage. What’s the value of “leading” a caucus of scoundrels that won’t actually follow you, anyway?

The man was about to turn 79 at the time (he’s 80 now). Surely, there are more satisfying ways to spend his remaining years than being nominally in charge of this bunch?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. “I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference,” McConnell is quoted in the book.

    In other words, he may be the Leader, but he isn’t a leader. Not by a longshot.

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  2. it would have done him no good to stand on principle. He’d lose his position as “leader” and the outcome wouldn’t change.

    BTW, clearly if the calculation was doing what he did to remain Minority Leader, then his calculation was correct. But if he really did believe Trump was responsible for 1.6, that is the kind of thing that throwing his power and influence as Leader on the table should have been worth doing if he had any principles. Trump likely still would not have been convicted in the Senate, but if McConnell had followed his alleged principles instead of his craven self-interest, the process in the Senate would have been different and the outcome would have been historically more significant even if he was the only additional GOP vote (and I think if he had voted to convict, more Reps would have).

    It isn’t like he isn’t old enough, accomplished enough, and financially stable enough to ride into the sunset if need be–and, I would add, he would have been a hero to history.

    The man was about to turn 79 at the time (he’s 80 now). Surely, there are more satisfying ways to spend his remaining years than being nominally in charge of this bunch?

    Indeed.

    The whole thing is just stomach-turning.

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  3. Lounsbury says:

    As the example of Zelensky illustrates, public positioning by a leadership can change a dynamic.

    While there is much crticism of pre-war analyses forecasting a collapse of Ukrainian leadership, it was I think a fundamentally sound analysis – had Zelensky done what the UK and the USA expected, leave Kiev for safety, even go to a safe country, the . While great man analyses over-reach in explanatory power, real human actors actions can change paths.

    Had the cited Senatororial leadership come out strong with their knives for the Orange Cretin – publicly and in internally party-political coherent discourse – there was likely a chance to succeed in knifing him.

    But cowardly, passive, academically ‘it will unfold mechanically’ of course allowed the more aggressive communication path – the Trumpist one – to change the fundamental dynamics.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Today’s GOP, cowards one and all.

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  5. Lounsbury says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: more than craven self-interest, a short-termist self-interest. Clearly no leader at all, merely a high-profile follower.

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  6. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If he had any principles, he’d have scheduled the second impeachment trial right away, before the Cheeto left office, and would have lobbied his party as though his life depended on obtaining a conviction.

    He should take some of the donor money to buy a spine and some agency.

    2
  7. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    He’s nothing but a panderer.

    1
  8. CSK says:

    I suppose they rationalize it by saying that if the Trumpkins kick them out office, then the crazies really will take over and all will be lost.

  9. Not the IT Dept. says:

    There were GOP elected congress critters in the past couple of years who’ve been upfront and said they or their colleagues were afraid of physical violence towards themselves and their families if they didn’t continue to be Trump’s fools. I believe them. There is an ugly undercurrent to politics now, and the GOP’s refusal to confront it when they still had a chance bodes very ill for the entire country. We’ll see if there’s violence this fall.

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  10. CSK says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    I agree that people erecting a gallows outside the Capitol and screaming “hang Mike Pence” would give one pause.

  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    I wonder if McConnell didn’t hold some sort of threat over Trump between 1/6 and 1/20, and make some sort of deal. I mean, the pardons we saw were kind of tame compared to what we speculated that we might see. For instance.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    It comes down to the extremist primary voters, like Dr. T keeps telling us. There are probably a list of people in KY who’d try to primary McConnell if he showed any integrity, and might have a chance despite McConnell’s massive pile of money. And maybe losing his seat, and all the opportunities for he and his wife to make money, is too big a price to expect him to pay.

    He’s right to fear the base, and Trump’s influence over the base. But he and his Senate accomplices have all done their part, alongside FOX, Limbaugh, et al to create that Looney Tune base. So he’s still a villain in this story, but he’s not been a villain just in January last year, but continuously for a couple decades.

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  13. Lounsbury says:

    @JustAGirl: It is so much worse you ingenius git, it iis simply insurrection in an American version of a Beerhall putsch. That is in no relation to mere riots, it is lowbrow incompetent version of an attempted coup. Dishonest twittery pretending this is a trviality.

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  14. reid says:

    @Lounsbury: I’m afraid we’ve been assigned a new, upgraded troll, because that post was nonsense, but well-written nonsense.

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  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    @JustAGirl: You seem like your comments are offered in good faith, so I’ll respond in good faith. Lets aggregate a few points, though.

    1. The Economy: Growth over the last year has been outstanding. Unemployment is way down. We have some issues with inflation, which is the result of two pillars: First, the big federal spending and accomodative stance of the Fed have produced this result, and it was intentional. This is the problem we sought to have, because people with jobs, but squeezed a bit by inflation are better off than people without jobs. There’s been an extra squeeze on gas prices because the West (not just the US by a long shot) has cut off oil from Russia and the Saudis have decided to milk the situation for all its worth. Decide for yourself whether they are our “friends” any more.

    2. The Border. There’s only a crisis if you believe Gregg Abbot and other propagandists. There might be more pressure since our unemployment is so low. This would create a situation I find humorous which is people in the US griping about how terrible it is, and people in Mexico wanting to get in because its so much better. At a higher level, I have to ask, what problem in your specific life would spending more on border enforcement solve? For me, the answer is none.

    3. We are supplying the Ukranian army with arms. So is the rest of NATO. We are doing this because Putin conducted an unprovoked assault on a sovereign nation. This isn’t the first time he’s done this to the Ukraine, let alone his other neighbors. In recent memory, Republicans were angry with Obama for not doing more when Putin grabbed the Crimea. If someone thinks Putin is justified because he hates gays or some such nonsense, all I can say is that person is not a patriotic American nor a supporter of democracy. To me, that makes them the enemy.

    4. EVEN IF you don’t agree with his decisions, and you don’t approve of what the President has done, that’s a separate question from “do you hate him?” I never hated GHW Bush, for instance, even though I preferred D policies. He seemed to want to do the best he could given his priors.

    My dislike of Trump has far more to do with his willingness to kick the vulnerable for political gain, his willingness to lie about a matter as trivial as the size of his inauguration, and his willingness to flout tradition and grift. The man has absolutely no sense of serving anyone but himself.

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  16. Kathy says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I never saw a Cheeto rally in full, but reports suggest it was like an extended version of Orwell’s two-minute hate, at least in those portions not involving self-aggrandizement.

    So Graham should know who hates Joe Biden and why: the followers of the orange ass he loves to kiss.

  17. Matt says:

    @JustAGirl:

    the state of the U.S./Mexico border is worse than it has been in decades,

    I recently moved from Texas where I lived near the border for 13 years. I have crossed the border multiple times in the past. The only thing making things worse there is Abbott and his kabuki bullshit. After screwing over the national guard Abbott decided to screw the rest of us by basically shutting down the border for commerce traffic. His inspections have found absolutely nothing beyond minor vehicular infractions. Those inspections have ruined hundreds of millions of dollars in produce and perishable goods while causing shortages and higher prices in the rest of the country. So yeah people in the area are pretty convinced that Abbott wants to run for president and is trying to out crazy Desantis..

    When Obama was president we had drones taking off from a local field to patrol the border along with other units. Once Trump came into office said drone flights stopped. I don’t know if they just moved the area of operations or if the operation was canceled under Trump..

    Meanwhile families continue to fight to keep their land along the border. Because to build the ineffective wall the US government has to steal land from Americans to build on…
    https://www.usatoday.com/border-wall/story/eminent-domain-trump-border-wall-rio-grande/638916001/

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  18. Matt says:
  19. just nutha says:

    @JustAGirl: No one on this site was asking that question. The article referenced that it was Lindsay Graham that asked. Perhaps you should copy your comment on to an email form and address it to him at his Senate office’s website.
    […]
    I also would like to question those comments implying that Senator McConnell has no principles. Staying elected in order to desperately grasp at everything you can possibly wrest from a system is a principle. The fact that it is not one that you or I would embrace does not alter it’s status as a principle at all, though.

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  20. just nutha says:

    @Lounsbury: I think you were looking for “ingenuous,” (and probably meant “disingeunous”) n’est pas?
    Sincerely,
    The Language Police

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  21. Kathy says:

    @just nutha:

    That’s more a goal or an ambition than a principle.

    The principle would seem to be “do whatever is necessary to maintain white supremacy,” plus “I always come first.”

  22. just nutha says:

    @Matt: Two points:
    1. A lot of people are saying that FG stopped the drone flights because Obama had been doing them combined with the problem of not being able to attack/bomb immigrants invading our borders using the drones. I don’t know, but a lot of people are saying it.

    2. The FG administration didn’t have to steal people’s land to build the wall. They could have acquired the land by paying fair-market value for it, but… yeah…

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  23. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: I see the goal and the principle as co-equal with both kind of blurring together. It may be that age and presbyopia are at fault. Lots of people are saying THAT, too.

  24. Matt Bernius says:

    FWIW, @JustAGirl is a legit account and presenting thier opinion (yes, I checked). Agree or disagree, they are not trolling.

    If you want folks providing an alternative point of view (as many have said), that is what you are getting.

  25. Jax says:

    @Matt Bernius: Check the forum. Dr. Joyner says it’s a new reincarnation of MBunge.

  26. Matt Bernius says:

    @Jax:
    Thanks for pointing that out. I will check with James. Based on email addresses, I am not sure that point is correct.