Why McConnell was ok with Trump losing
The House on Monday took up legislation to increase the checks being delivered to people from $600 to $2,000, and because it didn’t go through the regular process, it had to go to the floor on a “suspension of the rules.” When the rules are suspended in the House, a bill needs a two-thirds supermajority to pass. Up until yesterday, you could barely get a supermajority in the House to name a post office. But when it came to these checks, enough Republicans, pushed by Trump and by a public demanding the relief, joined with almost every Democrat to pass it.
Now the pressure is on the Senate, and Bernie Sanders is vowing to keep the chamber in session through the rest of the year unless Mitch McConnell agrees to hold an up-or-down vote on the House legislation. That would jam up a defense spending bill that both parties have agreed to, and is also a potent threat among a group of senators who want to do anything but spend New Year’s Eve in Washington.
All of it is leading up to the last day of voting for the Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5th, where all early-vote indications suggest that Democrats are well within striking distance of flipping the Senate.
McConnell caved earlier and agreed to $600 checks. Now that Trump and Democrats have raised the bid to $2,000, the question is whether McConnell will call or fold. He’s already pot-committed to the tune of $900 billion, and the two Georgia senators have now said they’re supportive of the extra money.
The jam McConnell finds himself in -- to maintain his power he may have to do that which he least wants to do, as disempowering a feeling as he can have -- is in many ways McConnell’s worst fears of the uncontrollable Trump coming true. My own take is that it helps explain why McConnell never lifted a finger to help Trump win the general election, which is the subject of my latest piece. (I was on Rising this morning to talk about it.)
One of the enduring mysteries of the 2020 presidential election was McConnell’s apparent lack of interest in helping to reelect Trump. From the perspective of the White House, the political press corps, Democrats, and effectively everybody watching the race, there was one major thing they thought would go a long way to delivering four more years for Trump, and that was a major round of stimulus in the weeks before the election, complete with checks destined for voters. Given that a swing of fewer than 100,000 votes in the right states would have flipped the election to Trump, it’s fair to say that such a stimulus could indeed have turned the tide for Trump.
Yet McConnell stood in the way. We now know with certainty that the Senate majority leader is well aware of the political value of stimulus checks. “Kelly and David are getting hammered,” McConnell told his Republican flock, explaining why the party would be agreeing not just to a historic-sized piece of legislation, but also to one that included $600 checks for everybody with under a certain income. “Kelly,” of course, is Kelly Loeffler, the wife of the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, appointed to the Senate to replace the retiring Johnny Isaacson, and “David” is David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General.
Both Loeffler and Perdue are facing runoffs in January, and both have used their perch in the Senate to acquire financial information they used to profit on stock trades. But that’s not why they’re getting hammered. They’re getting hammered over checks. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have been blasting away for weeks at Perdue and Loeffler for blocking another round of stimulus, and in particular for blocking checks.
And so McConnell bent to political reality, doing what he didn’t want to do in order to keep control of the Senate. But if it was a price he was willing to pay for Kelly and David and control of the Senate, why wouldn’t he pay the same price to keep control of the White House? The option was available to him. Even if Democratic leaders would have preferred to pass the stimulus after the election, their obstruction beforehand would either have been politically untenable or, if held firm, politically suicidal.
So McConnell had the option to press the button, and he knew the button would help Trump, yet he didn’t press it. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that McConnell did not want to help Trump win.
The calculation looks more and more reasonable the further it’s interrogated, and Trump’s chaotic response to passage of the latest Covid-19 stimulus is McConnell’s worst fear coming true.
From McConnell’s perspective, he has gotten nearly everything he could out of Trump: three Supreme Court justices, control of the federal judiciary, sweeping deregulation, and trillions in tax cuts. Yet for McConnell, dealing with Trump is also a daily humiliation, like being charged with babysitting a toddler who has been told by his parents that he’s the boss. What could Trump do for McConnell in a second term that would be worth the headache? And aside from the degradation, Trump represents a threat to McConnell’s vision of the Republican Party as a coalition led by billionaires and supported by the white working class. In Trump’s party, politicians like McConnell would not lead, but would be at the whim of the QAnon-inspired masses.
McConnell, for anybody paying close attention, made no secret of how he felt about Trump, both personally and politically. McConnell was more open about his view of Trump during the 2016 campaign, when he thought Trump was unlikely to win. “It’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues,” McConnell said on Bloomberg’s “Masters in Politics” podcast. Picking between Trump and Hillary Clinton, he said, “is not a happy choice.”
Once Trump was elected, McConnell resolved to make the best of it. “I’m not a mirror image of the president. But I’m glad he got elected,” McConnell told NPR in 2019. “It doesn’t mean you’re devoid of principle. But you have to make compromises and you have to try to advance the ball or you make no difference.”
But McConnell was angry after Trump’s notorious Charlottesville press conference, during which Trump said that “both sides” were to blame for right-wing violence that killed a protester in Virginia, though he took a day to respond. McConnell was equally livid when Trump engineered a government shutdown to push for funding for a border wall. A one-time China hawk, McConnell has since become an apologist for the Chinese government, regularly bristling at Trump’s trade war and rhetoric around China. Trump and McConnell routinely battled over what kind of candidate to back in Senate races (including in Georgia, where Trump wanted a Trumpier man than Loeffler.) And McConnell’s decision to skip the superspreader event that was the nomination announcement of Amy Coney Barrett is a prime example of his detached relationship with Trump’s White House.