Mitch McConnell says the darndest things
I'm not surprised that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to spend the next two years kicking President Obama in the shins. What does surprise me is that he keeps saying he wants to spend the next two years kicking President Obama in the shins. Yesterday, he told Politico that "there’s much for [the Democrats] to be angst-ridden about. If they think it’s bad now, wait ‘til next year.” A few months ago, when National Journal asked him, "what's the job?," he said, "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
This is not how prominent politicians tend to talk. Bipartisanship might be mostly illusory in Washington, but it's very popular in the country. And polls continually show that Americans think President Obama more sincerely interested in bipartisanship than the Republicans are -- which theoretically gives him the upper hand if and when he does choose to go to the mat over something. So why does McConnell speak this way? The theories I've heard are:
1) The Mr. Smith flicks off Washington theory: McConnell himself is a hardcore partisan who truly dislikes Obama. The guy says this stuff because he's an uncommonly honest politician.
2) Jon Chait's theory: McConnell is worried about the tea parties, both in Kentucky, where they knocked off his favored candidate in a primary, and nationally. This is how he stays ahead of them.
3) The DeMint theory: The common take on McConnell on the Hill is that he's terrified of Jim DeMint's growing influence among Republican legislators. McConnell can't out-conservative DeMint -- in part because he's simply not conservative in the way DeMint is, and in part because, as leader, he'll have to sign onto compromises that DeMint will never support -- so he's trying to out-partisan him, with the central insight being that most conservatives are bigger partisans than they are ideologues.
4) The negotiator's theory: McConnell is a creature of the Senate. He makes deals. The tax deal, for instance, was McConnell's. So he repeats these comments for two reasons: First, to show the White House that he's not a pushover, and is not impressed by them and should not be taken lightly. And second, to underscore his partisan credibility so that when he does cut deals with the White House, he has the conservative capital necessary to sell them as something other than capitulations to Obama.
5) He's communicating with his members and allies: Senate Republicans will remain in the minority next year, and so McConnell's job in 2011 will be the same as his job in 2010: Keep everyone together on procedural votes so Democrats can't move their agenda forward. McConnell is giving these quotes to Beltway publications like the National Journal and Politico, which are best understood as message boards where the professional political class talks to itself. By making his intentions public in these forums, McConnell is letting his members -- not to mention allied lobbyists, advocacy groups, etc -- know how seriously he's going to take party loyalty over the next two years.
Any that I'm missing? Leave them in comments, or e-mail me.
Photo credit: By J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
| December 22, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
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