Last week – in a spectacular bit of “Failure Theater” – Sen. John McCain, R. Ariz., strode into the well of the Senate and killed Obamacare repeal. It was the ultimate corrupt Swamp move, and encapsulates perfectly Mitch McConnell’s tenure as leader of the Senate Republicans. For Mitch, it isn’t about advancing an agenda it is about protecting himself, and his power.
Now, with actual conservatives threatening to replace an ethically challenged replacement senator in Alabama, McConnell is spending millions to stop even this little bit of Swamp-draining. This is McConnell’s Swamp, and he will protect it at all costs. Even if that cost is spending millions to shore up his power base, instead of using that money to advance President Trump’s agenda.
Let’s back up.
In February, former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, appointed then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the Senate vacancy created by Jeff Sessions’ appointment as U.S. attorney general. Normally such an appointment would not be controversial; in this case, it was. Why?
As attorney general, Strange was investigating Bentley for crimes that would later force Bentley to resign and plead guilty to charges related to campaign finance and ethics fraud. There are those in Alabama that have made the connection between Strange’s office ramping down their investigation and the Senate appointment.
Would you be shocked to find that Strange ran on a pledge to “Clean up Montgomery” – the state capital – when running for attorney general in 2010?
Another politician, another promise not kept. Seems like Strange is perfectly suited for the Swamp.
Because of the ethical cloud surrounding Strange’s appointment, Alabama’s new governor, Kay Ivey, called a special election for 2017 instead of waiting until the November 2018 election as Bentley had scheduled. The new election date is Dec. 12, 2017, with primaries scheduled for Aug. 15. If no primary candidate receives a greater than 50 percent share of the vote, a runoff is scheduled for Sept. 26.
In addition to Strange, who currently leads the race (per two recent polls), there are two other candidates with a shot at moving on to a runoff: Current Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. Those two candidates are vying for the vote of the conservative wing of the Republican party.
During the race, the comfort with which Strange has found a home in the Swamp, and has worked with McConnell has become a flash point in the race. Conservative groups are attacking Strange by tying him to the “SwampMaster” McConnell. Mitch, to say the least, is not pleased.
How unpleased is McConnell? How about “8 million dollars’ worth of advertising against the conservatives in the race” unpleased. Politico reported on McConnell’s spend through his super PAC.
McConnell is responding in kind. His super PAC is set to spend as much as $8 million to boost his favored candidate, recently appointed Republican Sen. Luther Strange. McConnell has activated his sprawling donor network and pressed the White House for more resources. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm McConnell controls, has warned consultants they’ll be cut off from future work if they assist Strange’s opponents.
And in a highly unusual step, one of McConnell’s top political lieutenants has begun quietly advising a long-shot Republican primary candidate running for Brooks’ House seat. The move is designed to get in the congressman’s head and dissuade him from emptying his campaign war chest in the race for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat.
8 million dollars …
There are a lot of things that McConnell’s super PAC could be spending that money on that would advance the agenda he purports to support. For instance, it could spend on issue advocacy in the states where Trump won and Democrats are up for reelection to the Senate. What would $8 million do in a state like West Virginia to prod Dem. Joe Manchin into voting for parts of the Trump agenda? The answer is, “a lot.”
Instead, McConnell has decided to once again go after conservatives, who are sick and tired of the longest-running show in the Swamp: his “Failure Theater.” He is going after conservatives who actually mean what they say when they run for office, and want to actually get those goals accomplished — instead of saying one thing during the election season and doing another during the legislative season.
Beyond merely attacking those opponents with cash, McConnell is reportedly using the power levers of his position to threaten the livelihood of any GOP consultant who wants to put conscience over blind loyalty to a party leader. Those tactics are exactly how you grow the Swamp.
President Trump has said that draining the Swamp is his number one priority. While Trump is trying to starve the Swamp of the vital nutrients it needs to grow, McConnell is spending millions of dollars to fertilize it and keep the dysfunction chugging along.
As long as McConnell is Senate majority leader, no change is going to come.
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Robert Eno is the director of research for Conservative Review. He is a conservative from deep blue Massachusetts but now lives in Greenville, SC.