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Bill Straub: Let us count the ways; just a question of where to start to name ways people don’t like Mitch

Chris Cillizza, an editor-at-large at CNN, penned a column recently in which he posed the question, “Why do so many people dislike Mitch McConnell so much?”

Oh, Chris, dear boy, to pillage a phrase from Elizabeth Barret Browning, let me count the ways.

Cillizza cited a Gallup poll showing McConnell is clearly the official held in the lowest public regard. Only 34 percent of those questioned expressed approval for the Senate Republican leader from Louisville while 63 percent offered disdain. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, the subject of unrelenting condemnation, managed 40 percent approval, a full six points better than our boy Mitch.

Democratic animosity toward McConnell, Cillizza maintained, is natural, given the nation’s current political divide, with only 21 percent expressing favor. Independents likewise don’t have much use for the man, registering only 35 percent approval.

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

The surprise, in Cillizza’s view, is McConnell’s standing within his own party, with only 46 percent showing support, a status he attributes to the leader finding himself crossways with the party’s capo di tutti capi, the Orange Ogre himself, former President Donald J. Trump.

McConnell and Trump have been at loggerheads for some time even though they managed to navigate through Trump’s four years in office without igniting World War III. They couldn’t stand each other, mind you, and every once in a while the now ex-president would lash out, like when McConnell refused to budge on his opposition to eliminating the filibuster rule, which Trump insisted was knee-capping his agenda, such as it was. At the same time, he would praise McConnell to the heavens for each legislative victory.

The ultimate, and pre-ordained, falling out came when McConnell, knowing when to fold ‘em, acknowledged that Democrat Joe Biden was the duly elected president of these United States and that it was time to move on, rejecting Trump’s claim, which continues to this day, that the election was “rigged,” somehow stolen from him, and that he was the rightful inhabitant of the White House.

Even the leader, who has slung more than his share, couldn’t stomach that level of horse manure and Trump has forever since endeavored to excommunicate him from the GOP, dubbing McConnell the “broken old crow” and seeking someone – anyone – to replace him in the Senate Republican hierarchy. Thus far, no takers.

The relationship took a really bad turn when McConnell claimed Fearless Leader was responsible for igniting the Jan. 6 insurrection that left the Capitol in shambles and five people dead. On Thursday, the first anniversary of one of the sorriest incidents in American history, McConnell further alienated the growing authoritarian faction in the GOP – those commonly known as Trumpists – when he claimed Trump has offered a “web of lies’’ about the outcome of the 2020 election and that those who participated in the insurrection were “criminals.”

Such statements might normally endear a Republican politician to Democrats, who stand firmly against Trump’s Fascist tendencies, by speaking truth to power. Instead, it shows why McConnell is held in disdain and deemed untrustworthy by those on all sides of the political spectrum.

McConnell had a chance to take Trump out and, for once, wind up on the right side of history. He could have favored impeachment but rejected the idea for phony-baloney reasons, although it’s questionable whether sufficient Republican senators could have been rounded up to convict anyway. He opposed the creation of an independent Jan. 6 commission to investigate the uprising but chose not to. In fact, he openly worked against establishing the panel, prevailing on GOP lawmakers who might otherwise see a probe as necessary to oppose the measure as a personal favor to him.

Finally, to top it all off, McConnell made it known that he will support Trump if he’s the party’s presidential nominee in 2024.

This is not exactly a way to appeal to any side – condemning a certain individual as a heretic but acknowledging that he’ll support the heretic if everybody else does.

And it certainly isn’t the way to earn a chapter in Profiles in Courage.

Cilliza, it seems, underestimates the degree of animosity toward McConnell among Democrats. Republican leaders of the past, like Bob Dole of Kansas and Howard Baker of Tennessee, for instance, were professional hardball players but they understood they represented all the people, not just the nation’s business interests that contribute large sums to political accounts. That’s why Dole was able to work with Sen. George McGovern, D-SD, the party’s 1972 presidential candidate, on the Americans With Disabilities Act. It’s why Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD, upon Baker’s death in 2014, could say, “Howard Baker’s distinguished career as senator and statesman is a product of his unique capacity to win the confidence and trust of even those with whom he fundamentally disagreed.”

Both Dole and Baker held something completely foreign to McConnell – scruples. To them, attaining power was a means to an end. To McConnell, it’s an end.

It’s that lack of scruples that allowed McConnell to steal a pair of Supreme Court nominations, impose a blockade utilizing the filibuster at every convenient turn, oppose efforts to protect voting rights, especially for those in the African-American community, and, in every way, place party before country.

The bill of particulars against McConnel on the Democratic side is long and well-taken. Now he dares, in reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection, that Democrats are trying to “to exploit this anniversary to advance partisan policy goals that long predated this event.”

“It is especially jaw-dropping to hear some Senate Democrats invoke the mob’s attempt to disrupt our country’s norms, rules, and institutions as a justification to discard our norms, rules, and institutions themselves,” McConnell said.
What’s stunning is McConnell began the process of discarding “our norms, rules, and institutions themselves’’ long ago, implementing the strategy of essentially requiring that legislation attract at least 60 of the chamber’s 100 votes to pass. He has changed rules when it suited him, like making Supreme Court nominations filibuster-proof.

In an ironic way, McConnell is like Philip Nolan, Hale’s Man Without a Country, shunned by both sides. As E.K. Hornbeck said of Matthew Harrison Brady, even his friends can’t stand him.

But none of that has ever bothered McConnell. He won’t change. You can have the popularity. I’ll take the power. And if current trends continue, he may obtain even more power in November, with possible changes in the partisan make-up in the Senate chamber.

McConnell has no friends on the Democratic side and nothing but enemies in the quickly advancing Trump Party. And there are reasons.

Hope that answers your question, Chris.

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  1. Richard says:

    Why should Kentuckians care about what outsiders like you (resident of Maryland) and Chris Cillizza have to say? McConnell has won re-election handily multiple times and can likely have the job as long as he wants it. Besides, what would you have to write about if McConnell left the senate? Biden’s many accomplishments?

  2. LOOk. McConnell is the scum of the earth. . .but he cleverly criticizes Dems and voters in Kentucky love (him) for that. They think that when he plays games with the system he is doing the right thing. They think that, since slavery, he is the best thing to keep those people at bay. The other commenter here attacks the message but missed the lowlife methodology of Mad Mitch and Pinhead Paul. These FAUX news-watchers like it when the venomous wenches climb on Biden because they are all crooked anyway, so what is wrong if Mitch is crookedest of all? He’ll probably get a statue in Jackson County, or, McCreary.

  3. Christina Conover says:

    As Bill Straub accurately points out, McConnell is unscrupulous. Ever the clever tactician, he cares only about one thing: power. And with him, party always comes before country. Every move he makes is to assure that he remains the top Republican dog. Even though he is a reputed student of history, he cares nothing about his legacy. I tried to read the book about him by Alec MacGillis called “The Cynic,” but it is so depressing I had to put it down. I suspect like most people, he probably went to Washington with the idea that he would make a positive difference, but like many politicians who went before (and after), he was instead corrupted to the bone. In an article a few years ago, I read that he has done more to destroy American democracy than any one person. It’s regretful that so many Kentuckians continue to vote for him even though he is clearly unprincipled. I think it has to do with his power–he puts Kentucky on the national map, even though he does nothing for and cares nothing about typical Kentuckians. Unfortunately, there are a lot of uninformed citizens who regularly vote against their own better interests, and furthermore, like McConnell, those voters carry outsized power to the national stage.

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