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If Mitch McConnell Is Still in the Minority It’s His Own Damn Fault 

Republicans had two (recent) chances to rid themselves of Trump. Instead, they humored him. So much downside.
November 10, 2022
If Mitch McConnell Is Still in the Minority It’s His Own Damn Fault 
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages)

In explaining the disastrous Republican midterm result, an old saw is all the rage among the McConnell-Murdoch corporate GOP types: Orange Man Bad.

And yeah, that is correct! He is bad! Welcome to the party! We’ve been drinking champagne and banging the drum for a while now, but I gotta tell you it’s getting kinda late.

In The Triad, JVL pointed out that the GOP had a chance to snuff out this timeline all the way back in 2016. But I wanted to narrow in on a couple recent opportunities when McConnell and Murdoch—two people with a reputation for being heartless killer masterminds—had chances to do something about their “Trump Problem” before the hour got so dark.

(1) November 2020 through January 5, 2021 

Historically, losing presidential candidates get tossed overboard quickly. Mike Dukakis wasn’t traveling the country as the figurehead of the Democratic party after he got whooped in 1988. He went back to Massachusetts to pick up litter.

But in 2020 things were different. Partly because Donald Trump is a narcissistic black hole with no equal. But also in part because Mitch McConnell and his big-money consultants made a disastrous calculation. They determined that the best strategy to ensure they won two run-offs in Georgia was to “humor” their loser-in-chief for just a little while as he fomented a coup.

They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve held the line and refused to play along with his traitorous bullshit. They could’ve argued that protecting democracy was more important than appeasing a former game show host.

This isn’t fantasy politics either! The three top elected Republicans in Georgia—Governor Brian Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—did exactly that.

Had McConnell et al chosen to break from Trump then, who knows? Maybe Perdue and Loeffler would’ve been rewarded by Atlanta Red Dogs, like the newly re-elected governor and secretary of state were this week. Or maybe they would’ve lost because of the depressed base—but with their dignity and our democracy intact, and with the GOP much better positioned to nominate a stronger Senate candidate in 2022 than a deadbeat dad who can’t string a sentence together.

Either of those outcomes seems much preferable for the Republican party.

Instead McConnell and the DC strategist class humored Trump, lost both races in Georgia anyway, and then watched as our Capitol was sacked and the police who protect them were mauled by Trump supporters who weren’t in on their joke.

Needless to say, this was the worst strategic decision by any political party in any of our lifetimes. And it’s all on McConnell.

But fate gave him a second chance.

On the heels of that disaster came another opportunity for these guys to do something about their Trump Problem.

(2) January 6, 2021 through February 13, 2021

After the Capitol was stormed there was a moment of clarity in which McConnell, McCarthy, Murdoch, and every non-sociopathic Republican in Washington saw that Trump needed to be put out to pasture. Much ink has been spilled in these pages and in epic books about their private wishes and public failures during this time, so I won’t bore you with a recap.

But it bears focusing on one element of it all. The triple Ms had multiple chances to put an end to the madness. McCarthy could’ve whipped his caucus to certify the election when they returned to session and demonstrated that the GOP was not an anti-democratic death cult. Murdoch could’ve banned his anchors from participating in any of the “just asking questions” propagandizing about who was responsible for what—or fired Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham when they mocked the Capitol Police who were attacked. They could have sent a signal that a red line had been crossed.

Most directly, though, when it came to impeachment, it was Mitch McConnell who had the opportunity to put the stake through the heart of the man who had sullied his party, insulted his family, and sicced a mob on the building he so reveres.

But McConnell didn’t even try to whip the votes to put an end to Donald Trump political viability. He didn’t twist the arms of colleagues who were privately concerned, tell them that he would stand with them, ensure them that they would jump off the ledge together. Instead he concocted absurd, ex post facto legal nonsense about how a former president can’t be convicted in order to give his caucus cover to acquit the man he thought was morally and practically responsible for a deadly insurrection.

McConnell was 10 votes away from saving the Republican party. If you put together his leadership team (McConnell himself, Thune, and Barrasso) and added on the retiring senators (Portman, Blunt, Shelby), he was over halfway there. But instead of trying to scrounge up four more votes, he signaled to his caucus that they could do whatever they needed to do politically while he covered the party’s backside by giving a stern, finger-waving speech.

That alternate path of whipping for Trump’s conviction would not have been without political consequence. A handful of Republican senators might have lost primaries. Trump would have raged on his social media platform. GOP turnout might have been down in this midterm.

But most of that shit happened anyway!

And they would not be going through the same rigamarole about how it might finally be the time to ditch Trump at the very moment that he plots a scorched earth run for president against the man they wish could take the mantle.

At every step along the way breaking from Trump was both the ethical, pro-democracy move AND THE RIGHT REALPOLITIK MOVE FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IN THE NEAR-ISH TERM.

Yet at each point, Mitch McConnell and his confederates made a monumentally stupid win-now calculation to appease Trump. And this choice continues to cost their party over and over again.

It’s easy (and right) to point fingers down at Mar-a-Lago following the Republican loss.

But the bigger reality is that the current predicament they are in is McConnell, McCarthy, and Murdoch’s own damn fault.

To paraphrase Churchill, they were given a choice between defeat and dishonor. They chose dishonor and then got their defeat.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.