Mitch McConnell’s Cunning Plan

Mitch McConnellJonathan Cohn tried to throw a little cold water on the Republican triumphalism last week, McConnell Didn’t Win Everything. His argument is that the Republicans paid a big price for their win on Tuesday. There are two parts of this. McConnell’s scorched earth “oppose everything” approach to the Obama administration meant that the Republicans had no input into the quite substantial legislative successes of the first two years. We could go further than that and see that Obama now feels he can do rather a lot through executive action because he has no real relationship with with the Congressional Republicans. It isn’t as though they are going to scream any more (or less) regardless of what he does.

The second part of Cohn’s argument is kind of funny: McConnell failed in his primary goal. Remember, McConnell didn’t say, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is to take control of the Senate in six years”; he said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” So even though it has got to be sweet to have this victory that was a long time in coming, it was not the success he had planned.

I think I would go in an even more extreme direction. McConnell has been a complete failure. He didn’t manage to take the Senate in 2010. In 2012, he actually lost seats, even though the fundamentals were good for him. The only way that his cunning plan can be seen as a success is if the Republicans keep the Senate and take the White House in 2016 — a result that is not even likely, much less assured.

Of course, now we have the ever wrong Megan McArdle who wants to know, Does Obama Even Know How to Negotiate? She says that Obama isn’t being nice after “McConnell’s rather gracious remarks.” I mean, can you imagine? McConnell has said publicly that he’s willing to work with the president! Obama should bend over to kiss his ring (and other things). Of course, we know that over the years McConnell has made similar vanilla statements about working together, and they always mean the same thing: if Obama is willing to do exactly what McConnell wants, they have a deal. (In theory.) Obama is just treating him the same way. The difference is that Obama actually has the power to do things by himself.

McArdle’s main argument is that since McConnell isn’t an ideologue, Obama will be able to make deals with him. Scott Lemieux over at Lawyers, Guns, & Money tears this argument to pieces:

The argument stands reality on its head. An ideologue you can potentially negotiate with, but someone who’s opposed in principle to making a deal with you is a different story. The idea that McConnell is going to suddenly drop his blanket opposition to giving Obama any legislative accomplishments now that he’s the majority leader is absurd. And even if Mitch McConnell suddenly turned into a 60s Republican minority leader, the chances that Boehner could deliver the votes for any significant non-budget legislation acceptable to Obama are less than nothing.

The truth is that McConnell’s plan has always been to maximize his power. Critical to that plan is to put a Republican in the White House in 2016. And that means doing what he has done for the last six years: stop the Democrats from doing anything at all. As I’ve discussed in the past, this is probably a bad plan. All the Republicans have really succeeded at is slowing the economic recovery so that by 2016, we will probably have a better economic recovery, making a Democratic win far more likely. But McConnell is not going to change his plan now. And even if he did, it is probably too late.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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