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Snitz talks McConnell's exit

I think the WSJ is missing the point.


Mitch is leaving because he's old and recently literally froze up for over 30 seconds in front of a live mike. He did that again 10 days later. He's not physically able to continue...period.


Sure he's at odds with Trump and the MAGA mob...that probably adds to his willingness to walk away. He deserves kudos for recognizing it's time (unlike you know who).


As for his support of US aid to the Ukraine and Gaza wars...think whatever you want, both these campaigns aren't working. Like Vietnam, the US has zero chance of prevailing on the winning side in Ukraine, nor do we have any realistic chance for the Gaza mess to advance our interests in the region. Both are massive tactical failures. Mitch was unable to recognize that.


Mitch McConnell Couldn’t Fend Off Trump’s Populist Takeover

Senate leader who stymied Democrats was ultimately a casualty of GOP’s antiestablishment turn


By Molly Ball, WSJ

Updated March 2, 2024 12:09 am ET


Mitch McConnell’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek another term as Senate Republican leader came with a remarkable admission of defeat: “Believe me,” he said on the Senate floor this past week, “I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time.” In ending his long era atop his party’s ranks in the upper chamber, he seemed to acknowledge the GOP had already moved away from him—and that he was powerless to steer it back.


The wily Kentuckian did as much as anyone to get Donald Trump elected president, and Trump facilitated the accomplishments that make up McConnell’s legacy. Yet Trump also led the transformation of McConnell’s beloved party into something unrecognizable, a populist force in which the Reaganite internationalist is decidedly out of place. Now McConnell, who made his reputation for ruthlessness in his pitched battles with Democrats, departs as the latest casualty of Trump’s takeover of the GOP.


In an interview Friday, McConnell disputed the idea that his departure represented a surrender to the forces of the populist right. “I know the story line is the so-called MAGA movement basically taking over,” he said in his gravelly baritone. “Throughout my lengthy terms as leader, we’ve always had eight or 10 [senators] who basically were a little less interested in outcomes and more interested in being on the Fox evening shows. I don’t think that number has changed much. I think the majority of the men and women I serve with in the Senate are still interested in getting an outcome, and so I don’t see this transformation occurring in the Senate.”


As evidence, McConnell pointed to the fact that two of the senators seen as his potential successors, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota, voted for the bill the Senate passed last month to send military aid to Ukraine and Israel. The majority of Republican senators, 26 of 49, voted against the aid in what was seen as a sign of McConnell’s declining clout. But McConnell said he was pleased that 21 Republicans joined him in supporting the measure considering its unpopularity with GOP voters. “I think if we had had a secret ballot on Ukraine, it would have been a clear majority of the conference,” he said.


Yet the Ukraine issue is only the latest to put McConnell at odds with an increasingly vocal cohort of pro-Trump senators, who have routinely defied him on debt-ceiling bills and other votes in recent months. Last month, McConnell’s office was deeply involved in bipartisan negotiations to pair the foreign aid with changes to immigration policy, but Trump’s opposition helped torpedo the deal the negotiators had reached before it even hit the floor.


McConnell, 82, cited his age and long tenure as the main reasons for his departure. He will remain as leader until senators select a new one after the November election and in the Senate until his term expires in 2027. In the interview, he said he would “absolutely not” endorse a successor, and the jockeying has already begun to take his place. Yet whoever takes up his mantle will lead a GOP that is at the very least divided, if not totally transformed, by the populist forces McConnell spent his tenure struggling and ultimately failing to contain.


The right’s disdain for McConnell was evident in a tweet from the House Freedom Caucus: “Our thoughts are with our Democrat colleagues in the Senate on the retirement of their Co-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ukraine),” the right-wing group jeered. Trump in recent years has dubbed McConnell “the Old Crow” and urged GOP senators to throw him out while also attacking McConnell’s wife, his onetime transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, with epithets mocking her Chinese ancestry.


A damaged building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, earlier this year. A majority of GOP senators voted against a Ukraine aid bill despite backing from Senate Republican leaders.


It’s a brutal irony considering McConnell was arguably single-handedly responsible for Trump’s election in 2016. That February, after conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, McConnell famously announced he wouldn’t hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace him, Merrick Garland, instead holding the seat open until after the election.


The unprecedented move sparked outrage on the left. But it also proved a powerful motivator to Republican voters, many of whom were still skeptical of Trump’s conservative bona fides. To reassure them, Trump said he would select his court nominee from a list of respected conservative jurists. The gambit worked: In exit polls, one in five voters said the Supreme Court was their top issue, and 57% of those voters supported Trump.


The Garland ploy was the culmination of McConnell’s yearslong tenure as Democrats’ bête noire, an unflinching obstructionist who weaponized Senate procedure to deny Obama the bipartisan mandate he craved. After Obama’s election in 2008 swept Democrats to wide majorities in the House and Senate, McConnell steeled the spines of nervous Republicans, convincing them that total opposition would set them up to reap the benefits of liberal overreach. At his urging, GOP senators rebuffed Obama’s overtures, forcing Democrats to enact the 2009 economic stimulus and 2010 Affordable Care Act on party-line votes. The McConnell-led Republicans also relentlessly deployed the filibuster, previously a rarely used procedural tool, to slow or block action on even routine legislation and nominations. When Harry Reid, who was majority leader in 2013, changed Senate rules to limit the use of the filibuster, he blamed McConnell for forcing his hand.


These machinations earned McConnell the fierce enmity of the left and a reputation as a ruthless, no-holds-barred political operator. It was a reputation he embraced, plastering the walls of one of his Capitol offices with political cartoons lambasting him and proudly touting the “Grim Reaper” moniker bestowed by his adversaries.


But even as McConnell became a boogeyman to the left, the right was conspiring to stymie his rise. Ever since his election to the Senate in 1984—beating an incumbent Democrat and beginning Kentucky’s gradual transformation into a red state—McConnell’s only ambition was to become majority leader. When he became minority leader in 2007, the goal seemed within reach. Yet the Tea Party fervor of the Obama era repeatedly saddled the GOP with flawed candidates, denying McConnell the majority he craved.


Republicans gained six seats in the anti-Obama wave of 2010, yet far-right nominees lost winnable races in Delaware and Nevada. The pattern repeated in 2012, when Democrats held the White House and kept the Senate thanks to controversial GOP candidates in Missouri and Indiana. These candidates campaigned nearly as much against McConnell as they did against Obama; to the insurgent right, McConnell represented the hated establishment old guard they were determined to topple.


In 2014, when McConnell himself was up for re-election and facing a right-wing primary challenge, he vowed to change the dynamic, recruiting favored candidates, shepherding them through primaries and micromanaging their general-election bids. “The dividing line for his tenure as leader really was 2014,” said Josh Holmes, his former chief of staff. “He threw all his chips in the middle of the table and said, we’re going to do it my way. It was a superaggressive play and very controversial, but his view was that it might be his last chance to be majority leader.” Aides joked that McConnell, with his penchant for poring over precinct maps and state legislative candidates, would have been an ace political operative if he weren’t a senator. The party gained nine seats that year, putting McConnell at the head of a 54-seat majority as the election to replace Obama loomed.


Trump and McConnell could hardly have been more different in personality, but McConnell swiftly dedicated himself to capitalizing on the New York billionaire’s upset election win, chiefly by stacking the judiciary with conservatives. Republicans changed Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees and confirm Trump’s first pick, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017. Over the course of Trump’s four years in office, McConnell oversaw the appointment of more than 200 federal judges, a single-term record. He also shepherded Trump’s sole major legislative accomplishment, the 2017 tax bill, through the Senate. The chamber, however, notably failed to overturn the Affordable Care Act when Sen. John McCain voted with Democrats to save it.


The 2018 midterms brought a Democratic wave to the House, but sticking with McConnell’s strategy, the GOP managed to gain Senate seats that year. He stood staunchly by a second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, despite late-breaking allegations of past sexual misconduct, and rejected the House’s first Trump impeachment for allegedly leveraging military aid to Ukraine in a political quid pro quo. And when another Supreme Court seat came open on the eve of the 2020 election, McConnell remorselessly discarded his onetime objections to election-year confirmations to push through Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment in a matter of weeks.


The Supreme Court appointments cemented a 6-3 conservative majority that McConnell said Friday he considers his most consequential accomplishment. “The Supreme Court, that is the thing that probably will have the biggest impact for the longest period of time,” he said. “Taxes go up and go down depending on who wins the election.” The court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 has already reshaped the political landscape.


But McConnell and Trump’s partnership of convenience broke apart after Trump lost the 2020 election. McConnell refused to abide Trump’s false claims of a rigged election, which contributed to the GOP loss of Georgia’s two Senate seats in a runoff, putting McConnell and his party back in the minority. He excoriated Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. “The mob was fed lies,” he said at the time. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” Nonetheless, he shied away from holding Trump accountable, delaying his second impeachment trial and voting against a conviction that might have prevented him from seeking office again.


Trump and McConnell haven’t spoken since before the Jan. 6 insurrection, aides say. In the Friday interview, McConnell declined to say whether he regretted his impeachment vote or whether he planned to endorse Trump, whom he referred to as “our nominee for president.”


During the Biden administration, McConnell has carved out a new profile at odds with his old “grim reaper” reputation. He has supported or blessed a series of bipartisan deals, including bills on infrastructure, China and gun control, and worked with the White House to keep the government funded, the debt ceiling raised and military aid to Ukraine flowing, until recently. In January 2023, he appeared with President Biden at a bridge in Kentucky that will be repaired by funds from the infrastructure bill. On Wednesday, Biden, a fellow Senate institutionalist, hailed McConnell as a “friend” and praised him for “working together in good faith even though we have many political disagreements.”


What do you see as Mitch McConnell’s legacy in the Senate? Join the conversation below.

All this bipartisan dealmaking earned McConnell a rising chorus of detractors on the right, even as the Trumpified GOP returned to its old habit of frustrating his electoral hopes. Trump handpicked a passel of unorthodox, inexperienced Senate candidates who narrowly lost their elections in 2022, including Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. After that election, McConnell’s leadership of the party was challenged for the first time by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who blamed him for not fighting hard enough for conservative priorities. Scott got 10 votes in the secret-ballot leadership election.


Always more respected than loved as a leader, McConnell now finds himself in a lonely position vis-à-vis the party to which he has devoted his life’s work. The foreign-aid bill he pushed over the finish line last month remains in limbo in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson has declined to take it up or commit to another legislative vehicle. On Friday, McConnell called the funding “immensely important,” adding, “I think if we don’t beat the Russians in Ukraine, we’re going to be facing them across the NATO line.”


McConnell refused to say whether he thought Trump represented the GOP’s best shot to win this year’s election, but he did weigh in on the stakes down ballot. “I’d like to turn my job over to a new majority leader,” he said. “We’ve got a really good map this year, and I hope we don’t blow it.”


Write to Molly Ball at molly.ball@wsj.com


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