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Bill Straub: If battle is between two monsters, King Kong and Godzilla, are you for McConnell or Paul?

It’s the eternal question: Who do you cheer for when King Kong battles Godzilla? They’re both monsters, after all, leaving chaos, death, and destruction in their separate wakes. And, frankly, neither creature is what you would call screen-idol handsome.

The query is pertinent since a similar dilemma may eventually confront the Kentucky faithful as it regards the Commonwealth’s two U.S. senators – Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader from Louisville, and Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green. Both men have done immense damage to the body politic in their own distinct ways and they now appear to be taking ever more divergent paths.

McConnell and Paul have never been what you might call palsy-walsy. Their marriage has always been one of convenience. In the end, they’re likely to be blowing air kisses at one another for the sake of their own political benefit. At the same time, there’s no reason to believe they’re going to suddenly be seen as old chums swilling beers with one another at a Nats game.

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

There exists a long history of senators from the same state who simply didn’t get along. Former Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, Republicans from Maine, couldn’t stand the sight of each other. But they were best buds when compared to a pair of Democrats from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg and Bob Torricelli, who had a confrontation during a Democratic Senate retreat some years ago, with the man known as The Torch threatening to cut off a sensitive part of Lautenberg’s anatomy with a knife.

For what it’s worth, Torricelli also despised fellow Jersey lawmakers Bill Bradley and Robert Menendez, who currently represents the Garden State in the upper chamber.

But we digress.

It’s unlikely the McConnell-Paul relationship will devolve to that degree but the warnings of water breaking over the levee are there.

Last month, for instance, McConnell, in his role as minority leader, abandoned his usual obstruction tactics and worked with Democrats to pass a $40 million aid package for Ukraine, which finds itself in a quagmire of a war, not of its own choosing, with Russia.

The package was on a glide path until Paul assumed McConnell’s usual role as the chief of impediment. Paul, for one reason or another, hasn’t exactly been sympathetic to the Ukraine cause, earning him the moniker Russia Rand.

The Senate was ready to schedule a vote until Paul objected, thus delaying any action for about a week. And, yes, under the upper chamber’s weird-ass rules, one individual lawmaker in the 100-member body can effectively delay a vote the remaining 99 support.

God bless America.

McConnell airily shrugged off Paul’s gambit, dismissing it as a mere distraction coming from “an isolationist’’ who represents only “a tiny percentage of the Republican conference.”

Eleven Republicans ultimately opposed the measure when it finally came up for a vote. Paul insisted his no vote wasn’t in the cause of isolationism but “common sense.”

It was sort of a mild rebuke from McConnell but what ensued is very intriguing. On May 23, Paul appeared on a what was characterized as a tele-townhall on behalf of Congressman Mo Brooks, a legitimate crazy running in the Alabama Republican primary for an open Senate seat, touting his conservative credentials.

What Paul failed to mention was Brooks’ vow, if his campaign ultimately proved successful, to oppose awarding another term as Republican leader to Mitch McConnell, a commitment a handful of other GOP candidates made as well.

McConnell likely remains wary. Brooks finished second but he forced a run-off with the top vote-getter, Katie Britt an attorney and businesswoman who is thought to be favored by McConnell. It’s nonetheless telling that Paul would recommend someone so willing to deep-six a fellow Kentuckian.

The Brooks endorsement doesn’t represent the first time Paul has sided with someone at odds with McConnell. There is, for instance, his relationship with the big dog – former President Donald J. Trump – who has offered nothing but vicious taunts about McConnell for almost two years now.

Paul and Trump weren’t always BFFs. In the run-up to the 2016 Republican presidential primary that involved both men, Paul characterized the future president as a “bully,” a “delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag,” adding that a “speck of dirt” would be more qualified to run the country.

Trump, in his own inimitable way, responded in kind. But after The Donald defeated him and others in the primary campaign and went on to the White House, Paul changed his tune and started cozying up to the aforementioned orange-faced windbag.

Paul became one of Trump’s biggest defenders, excoriating proponents of both impeachment efforts and, naturally, embracing the lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from the now ex-president. Our boy Rand appears for all the world closer to Trump than his fellow Kentuckian, serving as the ex-president’s occasional golfing buddy and exchanging sweet nothings.

McConnell, on the other hand, has been the object of Trump’s derision since acknowledging that the 2020 election wasn’t “rigged,” that Democrat Joe Biden was the duly elected president and that Trump held some responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Trump has responded by calling McConnell, “an old crow,” “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” a “dumb son of a b—h” and a “stone cold loser.”

Do you recall Paul speaking in Mitch’s defense?

The McConnell-Paul relationship was a little touchy from the get-go. In 2009, having forced incumbent Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ft. Thomas, out of running for a third term, McConnell threw his support behind Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson to succeed Bunning over the libertarian upstart Paul. Kentucky’s one-time Republican kingmaker proved not to be much of a kingmaker after all and Paul won by a 23 percent margin. He then defeated Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, in the general.

In other words, Rand Paul entered the upper chamber without owing Mitch McConnell a damn thing. And it shows.

McConnell subsequently endorsed Paul in both of his Senate races as well as in his misbegotten run for the White House. It’s a sure bet McConnell will look to give him another boost in the fall. But Paul and just about everyone else realize he doesn’t need McConnell’s help.

The two have differed over the years, particularly on foreign affairs, but both have maintained stiff grins while in each other’s company.

But the separation has become obvious over the diverting views of the COVID-19 crisis. The McConnell position was admirably simple – wear a mask, get vaccinated, and essentially follow Centers for Disease Control recommendations. He has also expressed “total” confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and President Biden’s chief medical advisor.

Paul, meanwhile, with 1 million Americans dead from the plague, has attacked mask edicts, refused to get vaccinated, and has gone way beyond what anyone would consider fair criticism of Fauci, demanding criminal charges be pressed and that the man who led the nation’s anti-COVID effort spend five years in jail, alleging without proof that Fauci lied to Congress about his role in covering up the origins of the virus.

Once again, Paul’s COVID position lines up much more closely with Trump’s view than McConnell’s.

So let’s play imagine for a minute. Think the unthinkable – Donald J. Trump is once again elected president of the United States. McConnell is still Republican leader, quite possibly the majority leader. Trump demands McConnell’s ouster, insisting the two can’t work together.

Who does Paul support?

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