Here’s a line from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that you can expect to hear in almost every ad for a Democratic Senate candidate between now and Nov. 8, 2022: “My entire focus is on putting a stop to this new administration.”
McConnell is typically cautious about what he says in public. The Senate minority leader did not rise to the top of his caucus by yelling at his colleagues, which is why McConnell’s latest gaffe comes as such a surprise — and such a rare gift for Democrats. McConnell delivered the perfect soundbite, confirming what everyone had already assumed.
The irony is that McConnell’s Kinsley gaffe was caused by him attempting to maintain his usual message discipline. McConnell was asked about the ongoing squabble in the Senate again while speaking at an event in Georgetown, Kentucky. Rather than weigh in on the fight between Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and the rest of her party over former President Donald Trump, McConnell stayed out of it — and landed right in the middle of a metaphorical swords fight.
“I think the best way to look at what this new administration is: The president may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument,” McConnell probably hoped. It has been a common refrain from him and other Republican senators that, despite campaigning as a moderate, President Joe Biden is essentially doing the bidding of his party’s left flank.
Instead, McConnell delivered a perfect soundbite that confirmed what everyone had already assumed: Republicans in the Senate, led by McConnell, have already decided, as they did under President Barack Obama, to stonewall anything the president wants to pass.
McConnell’s slip reminded me of a police interrogation, where being asked the same question repeatedly can cause a subject to make a mistake. That makes sense; McConnell has become so accustomed to avoiding questions about Trump and GOP infighting that he forgot to keep the focus squarely on Biden and not himself for a brief moment.
“My view at the moment is that we need to turn this administration into a moderate administration,” McConnell said to a reporter on Thursday. But it’s too late; that clip has almost certainly made its way into hundreds of pitch emails from Democratic ad-makers to senators up for re-election next year. (And, as I argued last week, Biden’s agenda is moderate, but not in the way Republicans want it to be.)
Normally, I’d wonder if McConnell purposefully threw himself on this grenade. In the past, he has been completely willing to take heat for unpopular proposals and positions, not caring about any dings he might take as long as his goal was met.
But I don’t believe that is the case here. His comments were not intended to divert attention away from the House’s drama; rather, he was attempting to avoid the spotlight and avoid having to take a side in the conflict between Cheney and the pro-Trump members of the House. There’s no way this is a clever Batman gambit — or even an Indiana Jones ploy — from McConnell. No, this is simply a case in which McConnell has handed the Democrats the stick with which they will beat him over the next two years.