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Posted at 9:44 AM ET, 01/13/2011

Don't blame the Senate on Mitch McConnell, Part II

By Ezra Klein

Josh Green responds to my argument that Mitch McConnell is less the indispensable man than a leader who reflects the incentives and realities of the modern Senate. Green makes two points. First, that "getting a bunch of craven, despondent senators to pursue a strategy of obstruction wasn't nearly as easy" as I suggested, and second, that "holding together a minority of 41 is a difficult feat."

I don't want to suggest that being Senate minority or majority leader is an easy job. You try talking to Jay Rockefeller when he's feeling cranky. But there's not much evidence that McConnell possesses heretofore-unknown powers of party persuasion. For comparison, take his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid. Reid doesn't have the particular qualities that Green identifies as driving McConnell's success, and yet he's accomplished an arguably more difficult feat: holding together more than 60 senators who range from Bernie Sanders to Ben Nelson. As Ed Morrissey notes, McConnell's efforts to encourage party unity were helped by the fact that moderate Republican senators were crushed in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Reid, in contrast, suddenly had more moderates to corral. But as you can see on this graph from CQ (click on it for a much larger, and more readable, version), he's tended to hold his party together better than McConnell has, and that's been true both under Bush and Obama:


The point isn't that Reid is the actual indispensable man. It's that party unity has been rising on both sides of the aisle since 1970, and in both the House and the Senate. Since 1990, the GOP's party unity in the Senate has been fairly stable, ranging between 80 percent and 90 percent under McConnell, Frist, Trent Lott, and Bob Dole. Prior to 1990, it was never above 80 percent for more than a year. And that makes me think you'd see much the same numbers if, say, Jon Kyl were leading the Republicans.

By Ezra Klein  | January 13, 2011; 9:44 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Sure, but one important difference: Harry Reid has been holding his caucus together for a very MODERATE agenda. Both health care reform, financial regulation, and even the stimulus incorporated quite a lot of centrist ideas that have appealed to Republicans in the past.

McConnell, on the other hand, has been holding his caucus together against a centrist agenda and for a very CONSERVATIVE agenda. To me, this is a more impressive feat.

Posted by: madjoy | January 13, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see you chose to write another piece about McConnell (5 comments) and not Palin (bazilion comments). It may be bad for advertising revenue but good for journalism.


Posted by: chrisgaun | January 13, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

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