MEMO: After #ALSen Defeat, Mitch McConnell Looks Weaker than Ever

To: Interested Parties
From: Jessica Mackler, President, American Bridge 21st Century
Date: 8/17/17
Subject: After #ALSen Defeat, Mitch McConnell Looks Weaker than Ever

The results of the Alabama Senate primary this week should be the final blow to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reputation as a “master tactician” — or even as a halfway decent majority leader.

Robocalls from the president. Up to eight million dollars. Second place. And a guarantee he’ll have to spend at least that much again over the coming weeks. In ruby red Alabama. That’s the result of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s defeat this week.

McConnell’s humiliation is the culmination of eight disastrous months for Senate Republicans in which they have careened from crisis to crisis.

His health care bill is dead, defeated and trashed by members of his own party. His president has disowned him, accusing him of undermining his agenda. His legislative tactics are viewed with suspicion by Senators of his own party. His 2018 recruitment has been painfully underwhelming, resulting in nasty primaries between unknown, underfunded candidates. And a vicious intra-party primary in which his lack of qualification to serve as the GOP’s leader in the Senate was a crucial flashpoint.

Around the country, Republican Senate candidates are loath to say they support McConnell — and many sitting Republican Senators are going further, condemning McConnell for his lackluster and self-interested leadership. The takeaway is clear: McConnell’s self-serving agenda has morphed into a dangerous political liability for Senate Republicans across the board. This agenda is already taking its toll, as seen in Alabama, and things are only going to get worse for the GOP moving forward.

McConnell’s True Motivations

Which Republican Senate contenders will lose next year because of Mitch McConnell’s self-interested adventure in the Yellowhammer state? McConnell spent up to $8 million to drag appointed Sen. Luther Strange to a distant second place, and over the next six weeks will spend at least that much again in “scorched earth” attacks on Judge Roy Moore, this week’s winner. Those are millions McConnell is taking away from his 2018 incumbents and recruits to satisfy his self-serving political agenda.

Make no mistake: every dollar Mitch McConnell invests in Alabama is a dollar going toward protecting McConnell’s fragile position as majority leader. It’s that simple. Rep. Mo Brooks and Judge Roy Moore made their contempt for their party’s Senate leader explicit.  Brooks called on McConnell to resign this summer, and Moore delighted his supporters by attacking “Mitch McConnell and his cronies in Washington.” Only Sen. Strange stayed loyal to McConnell, and this week over 67 percent of Alabama voters rejected him and his ties to McConnell.

No senator has overcome a primary loss of similar magnitude in 95 years, Geoffrey Skelley of Sabato’s Crystal Ball reported. McConnell sees the writing on the wall, so no one should be surprised when he spends millions over the next six weeks to prove history wrong — millions that vulnerable incumbents — such as Sen. Jeff Flake and Sen. Dean Heller — and weak challengers will need in 2018.

Why Is He In This Mess? Healthcare

Sen. McConnell’s decision to pursue a secret, partisan health care bill this year was a disastrous mistake. His caucus rebelled, criticizing him in shockingly direct language. Sen. Jerry Moran condemned McConnell’s “closed-door process” on the health care bill. Following reports McConnell was making opposite promises on Medicaid funding to different senators, Sen. Ron Johnson accused McConnell of a “significant breach of trust.” “I was shocked at the process. There was no information,” Johnson said. Sen. John McCain called for McConnell to “return to regular order” and abandon his efforts to ramrod through legislation with a simple majority.

The Trumpcare debacle caused top conservative groups and opinion leaders to turn on McConnell, too. Club for Growth chastised McConnell’s difficulty in passing a health care bill: “This should be a slam dunk; the Senate already passed this legislation once.” Republican blogger Erick Erickson wrote, “It’s time for Senate GOP to ditch Mitch McConnell” and called on Trump to “send McConnell to the pasture.”

Where Things Go From Here

Looking ahead, things are on track to go from bad to worse for Mitch McConnell. His 2018 class of candidates looks like an island of misfit toys, as the McConnell-controlled National Republican Senatorial Committee has been unable to persuade first-tier (or, in many cases, even second-tier) talents to run for senate.

In Pennsylvania, four-term Rep. Patrick Meehan, McConnell and the NRSC’s top choice, was considering a run, then declined to challenge Sen. Bob Casey. Meehan would have been a bigger name with far greater fundraising power than Rep. Lou Barletta, who recently entered the race and has never raised more than $1.3 million for any race.

In Missouri, another top-tier Republican recruit, well-connected Rep. Ann Wagner, opted out of a run, followed closely by Rep. Vicky Hartzler. McConnell’s third-string pick? Josh Hawley, the first-time office holder who’s been attorney general for eight months — and will be hamstrung by allegations he’s just another ladder-climbing career politician like those he ran against last year.

In Montana, Republicans lost their top recruit, Ryan Zinke, after Trump picked him to be his interior secretary. Attorney General Tim Fox also said no, which has left State Auditor Matt Rosendale as the only statewide name among a half dozen potential candidates.

In Indiana, Rep. Susan Brooks decided not to challenge Sen. Joe Donnelly and her less popular colleagues, Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, both jumped in. The two have spent the summer attacking each other with such vitriol Politico called it the GOP’s nastiest primary.

In West Virginia, another bruising Republican primary is underway between Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The primary has gotten vicious and personal, with Morrisey attacking Jenkins as an Obama-Clinton Democrat, and Jenkins hitting Morrissey for leaving his AG role early – and his Super PAC has attacked Morrisey for his wife’s work in Washington, D.C.

The bottom line: McConnell’s self-serving agenda is a political liability, and Republicans across the country are going to suffer the consequences
The hallmark of Mitch McConnell’s tenure as Majority Leader has been an unrelenting focus on his own self interest, a strategy that has totally backfired, hurting himself and his party. Rather than including his caucus — not to mention Democrats — in drafting health care legislation, he wrote the bill in secret, leaving many in his own party blindsided by the bill’s horrific impacts.When it became clear his Trumpcare bill would fail, he caved to conservatives and forced a vote on it anyway, putting Republicans like Heller and Flake in an impossible situation. Rather than putting Heller and Flake’s reelection first, he is spending millions in an intra-party fight to get a pliable lackey elected, and many more GOP primary fights are coming this cycle.

The prognosis for the rest of 2017 and the midterm elections is clear: under McConnell’s ineffective, self-interested leadership, Senate Republicans are headed to a lost two years.