I’ve been spending most of my time on the government shutdown and all my reports on the talks have now been exclusively about Mitch McConnell.
It’s not just that he’s not anywhere near the compromises that the talks have, for instance, tentatively hammered out. It’s that he’s completely dug in, with zero awareness of the stakes, and with no interest in winning the support of President Trump.
Rather than recognizing that by insisting that Trump can’t be trusted, his leverage is shrinking, McConnell is doubling down, opposing any deal that would be even modestly positive for the Democrats.
McConnell even seems to view this as a political virtue. Why, he asks, should President Trump be coddled by his own party when he’s so unattractive and unelectable? Apparently McConnell is unaware that Trump — even with his low standing — is the most popular figure in Congress, and, even if he were to close down the government, he would get support from most Republicans, especially if a short-term extension was included.
It makes no sense, or it seems that it doesn’t, for McConnell to oppose the only deal that has any reasonable chance of getting through.
So far, perhaps unbeknownst to McConnell, I’ve been writing frequently about the government shutdown as a small part of a larger story of the Republican Party and America’s political culture as a whole.
The broader issue I’ve been trying to emphasize is that the Republican Party seems utterly incapable of pursuing a distinctive agenda — one that embodies what it really stands for and is a “movement” in the sense that it does not require leaders of the Republican Party — that might better help its voters than a weirdly and fatally convoluted version of nationalism based on xenophobia, misogyny, bigotry and bigotry against blacks and immigrants.
In fact, I think that the GOP’s refusal to pursue any policies that aren’t about turning America into a right-wing state — anything from repealing Obamacare to nominating someone to the Supreme Court with a “personhood” claim — comes almost entirely from this failure to understand that its supporters care about something other than poverty and terrorism.
That failure is embodied in McConnell, who, if McConnell has any peers in Washington, certainly has none.
He knows that Trump is a loser at best and a bad president, and certainly not what the GOP will need to become a dominant, winning political party again, and McConnell, however smarmy he may be, doesn’t seem especially inclined to ease that burden.
He seems, at best, to be happy to waste a lot of time on a headstrong and unstable president who can’t be controlled. And he seems entirely comfortable playing the game of authoritarian politics, allowing Trump and his allies to dehumanize all of Washington’s opponents and to tear people down because they don’t see what Trump’s doing right.
That’s why McConnell refuses to negotiate about Obamacare or immigration reform with Democrats, why he seems resigned to seeing Trump embarrass the party further on the world stage, and why he cannot bring himself to challenge the president — or himself — on any critical matter.
And although McConnell may not like Trump and would like to see him lose, he cares nothing for the destruction of the political order that he hopes to preserve.
That’s why he’s fighting with Trump over the terrible shutdown he can see clearly and understand only that it will hurt Republicans, but will not damage Trump. And because he understands the danger to the party of Trump’s demagoguery, he’s obviously in no mood to bend to his will.
He’s so in no mood, in fact, that on Saturday he called the shutdown a victory for the party.