A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Think of all the great acts. Give big round of applause for McConnell, Paul and Trump?

In the past, we’ve had Laurel and Hardy, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello. Now we have McConnell and Trump.

In an interview with columnist Fred Barnes, an acquaintance from the days of appearing on “Issues in the News’’ over the Voice of America, Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, squealed like a four-year-old holding a double-scoop ice cream cone over the accomplishments he has helped manufacture during the first two years under the administration of President “Tiny’’ Trump (ugh!).

McConnell told Barnes that he believes the past two years have resulted in “the best two years right of center in the 34 years that I’ve been here.”

Although Republicans weren’t “in a totally dominant position” during that period – the GOP controlled the House, the White House and the Senate, although the latter wasn’t filibuster-proof – he exclaimed that “even with a very narrow majority we fundamentally moved the country right of center in every way that we could for two solid years.”

That was accomplished in two specific ways, according to ol’ Root-‘n-Branch, the reverse Robin Hood tax bill that essentially takes from the masses and gives to the rich, the appointment of right-wing judges of dubious abilities that Mitch and others pray will take us back to the days before The Enlightenment, and a deregulation frenzy that has rendered America a riskier place to reside.

Once there was Larry, Moe and Curly. Now there’s McConnell, Paul and Trump.

In assessing those occurrences, McConnell uttered the word that is magic to the ears of every white Republican collecting Social Security (in other words, the party’s natural base) – “Reagan.”

Old Dutch, McConnell told Barnes, “would have been proud’’ of the march backwards, taking specific pride in passage of a tax bill that was anything but bipartisan – it received no Democratic votes.

“That’s why I look back with a lot of pride to this particular two years because I think we took full advantage of having one of those periods that have only come about a fifth of the time over the last 100 years to have all three power centers,” he said.

Let’s be clear – McConnell succeeded in shifting the United States to the far right, not because of some political acumen but because he was willing to change the rules in the middle of the game and/or ignore Senate traditions that previous majority leaders embraced. He earned two U.S. Supreme Court appointments – Justice Neil Gorsuch and the wildly ill-equipped Bret Kavanaugh – because his Republican majority made high court nominations filibuster-proof. And the tax bill succeeded because it likewise was brought up under a rule that let it pass with 50 votes, instead of the 60 that would have been needed to invoke cloture.

His insistence on citing the tax bill remains curious. Republicans endeavored to use that vote as a cudgel against Democrats in the 2018 elections, insisting that it put more cash in everyone’s wallet. The problem is the few cents most working folks found mixed in with the lint at the bottom of their pockets barely amounted to a cup of coffee at the local 7-11. Most of the benefits went to – and you have already guessed this – businesses and those who already could afford to light their cigars with $100 bills.

The law, according to the most recent measurement by RealClearPolitics, carried the approval of 39.3 percent of those surveyed and was opposed by 41 percent. Unless ol’ Root-‘n-Branch has also somehow changed scorekeeping rules, that tax package would at a glance appear to be a loser, and deservedly so. The proof came Election Day when the GOP lost 40 House seats and, therefore control of the chamber.

What McConnell’s comments do is tie two incredibly unpopular office-holders together in a neat little package that allows them to bear the consequences hand-in-hand. A recent Morning Consult survey placed McConnell’s approval at 30 percent and disapproval 56 percent. Trump looks like the heavyweight champion in contrast – the most recent Gallup poll placed his approval at 40 percent and disapproval at 55 percent.

In other words, McConnell and Trump are floating down the River Acheron of history as one. They are now, officially, the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of politics.

By embracing the accomplishments of the current administration McConnell has cast himself as a first-rate Trumpster, more than willing to look past the president’s countless peccadilloes for a failed tax package and a group of judges who would have felt right at home sitting on the Inquisition.

Now McConnell has added to the legend. The federal government has been partially shut down for going on two weeks because Trump hasn’t received the $5.7 billion he is demanding to build a wall along the southern border to keep those brown people out. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, the incoming Speaker of the House, and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, offered a deal – fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year save for the Department of Homeland Security, whose funding would run into February, allowing for additional wrangling of the wall.

Trump nixed the offer and now McConnell, dutifully to his new BFF, insists the Senate won’t vote on any House-passed funding package that Trump won’t sign.

“As I said for the last few weeks, the Senate will be glad to vote on a measure that the House passes that the president will sign,’’ McConnell said in a statement that falls well short of Profiles In Courage. “But we’re not going to vote on anything else.’’

So about one-fourth of the federal government remains shuttered for the foreseeable future, making it the McConnell-Trump shutdown.

Up to now, McConnell has endeavored to play both sides of the street, backing the president of his own party when it served his purposes and then tut-tutting – without actually doing anything – Trump’s most obvious whoppers. But in for a dime, in for a dollar, as they say, and ol’ Root-‘n-Branch has tied his fate to the most obvious grifter who has ever resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

McConnell, to this point at least, has resisted Trump’s siren call to obliterate the filibuster, understanding much better than the huckster-in-chief that one of these days the Democrats might regain control and use that newfound authority to undercut any and all GOP accomplishments over the years. Otherwise, Mitch is willing to swallow the entire Trumpian package – the lies, the smears, the outrages, the swindles, the sneers, the conniving and, perhaps most of all, the stupidity — to get his package through.

Inevitably the McConnell-Trump tandem is bound to inherit the wind. Trump’s looting of the presidency is so overt that almost everyone, besides McConnell, will at some point no longer be able to cast a blind eye. It’s then that old Mitch will be asked where he was during the fight and he’ll find that, unlike in the Trumpster’s case, bone spurs won’t prove to be a sufficient answer.

McConnell isn’t the only Kentuckian grasping the tail of Trump’s cloak. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, virtually slobbered in appreciation over the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. And when Republican senator-elect Mitt Romney of Utah, the GOP standard bearer in 2012, allowed as how Trump has “not risen to the mantle” of the presidency (no duh), Paul counter-attacked.

In a tweet, that form of communication favored by Trump, Paul stated that “Like other Big Government Republicans who never liked Reagan, Mitt Romney wants to signal how virtuous he is in comparison to the President. Well, I’m most concerned and pleased with the actual conservative reform agenda @realDonaldTrump has achieved.”

What Paul is saying here, of course, is to hell with virtue, don’t concern yourself with the lies, the cheating, the thievery or any of those other things that have marked the Trump administration. Just look at what’s being done.

This from a man who opposed Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, where The Donald characterized him as, “Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain.”

So much for self-respect, Senator.

It appears that McConnell and Trump – by tradition the straight man is always listed first – are more than just a duo like Olsen and Johnson and Clark and McCullough (look them up, you cultural reprobates). They’re a trio – McConnell, Paul and Trump.

Does Moe, Larry and Curly ring any bells?

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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