Sunday, December 1, 2013

The ideologue’s new clothes:
McConnell tacks to the center


OH, GREAT, now he gets it. In a bid to revive his slowly flagging prospects for re-election in the 2014 Kentucky Senate race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally taken aim at his erstwhile allies in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, deciding what most Americans have known for some time: the Tea Party cabal is destroying what’s left of the Republicans’ reputation.

In the wake of the GOP’s embarrassing fail in the 16-day government shutdown, and the triumph of moderation in November state elections, McConnell sat for an interview with the Washington Examiner and revealed that, yes, at long last, the scales had fallen from his eyes.

He could now report the breaking news that Tea Partiers were slowly dismantling the GOP and its prospects for 2016 — to say nothing of his own prospects for surviving serious challenges to his re-election less than a year from now.

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McConnell brought a singular venom against the Senate Conservatives Fund, an insurgent clique that’s backing McConnell challenger Matt Bevin in the primary next year. ““The Senate Conservatives Fund is giving conservatism a bad name,” he told The Examiner.

“They’re participating in ruining the [Republican] brand. What they do is mislead their donors into believing the reason that we can’t get as good an outcome as we’d like to get is not because of a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president, but because Republicans are insufficiently committed to the cause — which is utter nonsense.”

McConnell’s been a good friend to utter nonsense. The senator (fated to be permanently remembered for giving high priority to making President Obama a one-term president not long after the first time he was sworn in as president) has opposed Obama on most of his domestic legislative agenda — only holding onto his “establishment moderate” credentials because the Tea Party crew is so extremist by comparison.

But at one point in the interview, McConnell sounded positively Main Street, speaking of the need for a reconfigured Republican Party in downright centrist terms.

“To have the kind of year we ought to have in 2014, we have to have electable candidates on November ballots in every state -- people that don't scare the general electorate and can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” he said. “We can't just turn the other cheek and hope for the best. It didn't work in 2010 and 2012 so we're going to try something different in 2014.”

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ALL THIS frantic reaching for the middle may be too little way too late. Besides the primary face-off that’s coming with Bevin, McConnell has to contend with a game Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state, who’s given McConnell all he can handle in the early state polling.

Just as big a challenge for McConnell is to explain why the tipping point for action, why the need to make this big move comes now — when the Tea Party gang has been making a shambles and a mockery of the Republican brand for years.

Bevin and Grimes will no doubt make a point of reminding voters of McConnell’s situationally strategic pivots vis-à-vis the Tea Party: supporting the Tea drinkers, or opposing them, whenever it suited him politically.

Now the Senate minority’s ranking ideologue feels compelled to sound the alarm on the insurgents among them. Well, better late than never. But McConnell speaks up now in a way that points to nothing so much as his own mounting desperation. In this lurch toward the middle, in his shrieks about the Tea Party “ruining the Republican brand,” McConnell reveals his own convenient memory. He’s likely to be trapped in the quicksand on the right — the same construction material he’s been using to build a scaffold of conservative rage for the last five years.

Image credits: McConnell: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images. Kentucky poll: The Huffington Post.

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