Voices: Mitch McConnell is to blame for Republicans’ flop in the Senate, but not for the reasons conservatives think

Republican leader in the Senate is being blamed by some in his own party for their poor showing in the midterm elections  (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Republican leader in the Senate is being blamed by some in his own party for their poor showing in the midterm elections (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The failure to flip the Senate has forced Republicans into a bitter intra-party feud and nobody seems to be feeling the heat more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters cried to Tucker Carlson about the fact McConnell didn’t support him financially, despite the fact he released videos of himself shooting a campaign ad calling Roe v Wade “a genocide” while in the middle of a corn field. Newly re-elected Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah have teamed up with Rick Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to call for a delay in the vote for leadership elections.

Of course, Scott is far from a reliable narrator, given that blaming McConnell is a way to absolve himself of guilt after a massive failure where he set money on fire for quixotic campaigns to try and flip seats in Colorado and Washington state. As Politico reported, he even has the audacity to even try to challenge McConnell for leader before the election results showed a disaster.

But faulting McConnell is absurd, especially considering that his Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) super PAC launched a $28m onslaught of ads that bailed out JD Vance in Ohio and made the difference since he was broke, as The New York Times reported.

The millions of dollars SLF spent in Wisconsin also likely saved Johnson as he only narrowly beat Mandela Barnes and he also helped hold North Carolina’s Senate seat. Put simply, McConnell did his job: He protected incumbents and held seats where they needed to be held.

McConnell blame is easy to do because, despite voting like one, he’s never been a true movement conservative and the base has long despised him. In addition, he also occasionally says nice things about Joe Biden and in a party that sees Democrats not just as the opposition but as the enemy, that amounts to sacriliege.

Of course, pointing the finger at McConnell comes after plenty of conservative media outlets and figures have said that former president Donald Trump harmed the party’s chances. But that is also a convenient excuse because it allows conservatives who never fully liked Trump and his supporters to finally dump him and allow them to start peddling Ron DeSantis as the 2024 nominee.

But in truth, McConnell and Trump do deserve blame – just not for the reasons their supporters would like to say: As president and Senate Majority Leader, they are the two men most responsible for creating the Supreme Court that wrote Dobbs v Jackson, which overturned Roe v Wade.

McConnell, for his part, set the spark that ignited it. In 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died, McConnell blocked Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and prevented him from even receiving a hearing under the pretense that a new president should pick his replacement. McConnell called that “the biggest decision I’ve ever made.” McConnell was so proud of that move that the 404-page on his campaign website featured Garland, Obama and Biden.

Blockading Garland likely convinced many conservatives who didn’t like Trump in 2016 to ultimately pull the lever for him if it meant he would nominate Scalia’s replacement. A year later, McConnell got rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia.

In 2018, McConnell pushed the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh despite allegations of sexual misconduct, which Kavanaugh vociferously denied. McConnell’s steadfastness turned him into a Democratic villain but also elevated him as a conservative hero who many considered an utterly ruthless tactician.

Then, finally, McConnell betrayed his own self-prescribed principle when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died weeks before the 2020 presidential election and he and Trump rammed through the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

With that singular move, McConnell set the stage for a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority for at least a decade. That alone meant that Roe was endangered and when the court finally overturned it in June, nothing could have stopped the rage that women, transgender and non-binary people had at the idea that their bodies were not their own.

Stories abounded of women suffering from pregnancy complications and doctors fearing prosecution if they treated or terminated pregnancies.

Of course, many Republicans cannot bring themselves to admit that Dobbs caused this. To admit that overturning an enshrined right to seek an abortion cost this loss would be to say that the conservative position on abortion is politically unpopular.

That would infuriate religious conservatives who have been an essential part of the Republican coalition for the better part of four decades and who rallied behind Trump. Most tellingly, when a story came out about a 10-year-old girl in Ohio needing an abortion, Jim Bopp, a conservative activist, said the girl needed to carry the pregnancy.

And the last time Republicans tried to moderate their position on a core policy – as was the case when the GOP tried to embrace immigration reform in 2013 – the party faithful rebelled and it led to Trump’s election.

Up until then, ending abortion was a hypothetical and it allowed Republicans to label Democrats as godless baby killers and pass laws they knew couldn’t be enacted as long as Roe was in place.

Now, McConnell is looking at failing to flip three of four Senate seats and bracing himself for a bruising runoff for merely bringing the Senate to a draw.