POLITICO Mag: Mitch McConnell: Hero or Villain?

I was asked to contribute to an “expert roundup” for POLITICO Magazine on McConnell’s retirement. It’s interesting mix of admirers, haters, and notable formers including a Speaker, a McConnell chief, a Reid staffer, multiple Kentucky statewide elected officials alongside various pundits, politicos, and professors.

Their version clipped what I thought was the upshot of my piece, so I put the third paragraph on my substack (and below), along with a callback to an earlier profile I participated in.

My submission:

Mitch McConnell will depart his post as GOP leader later this year an icon to his allies and an archvillain to his enemies — and he wouldn’t have it any other way. What else can you say about a man who takes such obvious relish in being cast as the grim reaper of the Senate? Who not only collects unflattering political cartoons, but displays them on his wall. Who gamely plays the mirthless baddie, serving alternatively as primary pin cushion and general election shield. Whose egoless, unsentimental devotion to power and the wielding thereof remains the hallmark of his record-setting tenure at the helm of the Republican Conference.

His exit is bittersweet, both for himself and for the GOP. His single most consequential act as leader — and make no mistake, the election-year blockade of Merrick Garland was the most audacious decision in the history of congressional leadership — helped usher in a president who would cement his legacy, transform his party and ultimately confound his ability to lead it in any meaningful way, an irony that is surely not lost on McConnell.

For better or worse, the Republican Party McConnell leaves behind is not the one he enlisted in so many decades ago as a young Louisville attorney. It’s not even the one he found when he reached the top rung nearly two decades ago. It is a party in transition, one that doesn’t quite know where it wants to go or what it wants to stand for, except in boisterous, disdainful, reflexive opposition to the political class and its sensibilities. McConnell’s decision is as much a function of this reality as it is an acknowledgement that time has finally caught up to him. To his credit—unlike certain politicians—he is stepping aside for a new generation of leaders to take the reins. Love him or hate him, the institution will be worse off for his relegation.

Continue Reading

POLITICO Mag: The GOP Brain Trust on Why the Party Lost So Big

I was asked by POLITICO Magazine to contribute a snap reaction to the off-year election results, and what Republicans can take away from the experience. It’s a good variety of perspectives, though I think I’m the only one who went the realpolitik route.

Read the full piece here.

My take:

Democrats had a strong night on Tuesday across the board, a morale-boosting affair that will sooth concerns over the increasingly shaky Presidential polling. While the results largely lined up with survey data, Republicans failed to live up to outsized expectations predicated on expanding from their 2021 success, which now registers as a blip in retrospect. The unmistakable pattern of the Trump era is that of Democrats becoming the party that excels in low turnout elections, while GOP fortunes are increasingly tied to low propensity voters who only tune into national elections.

What this off-year success can’t assuage — and at some level serves to exacerbate — is the creeping sense that, despite a favorable environment and galvanizing issue matrix, the growing public malaise surrounding President Biden leaves him singularly vulnerable to defeat. For the time being, voters are telling pollsters that they’d even prefer former President Trump, despite his own immense baggage and unpopularity. Age, inflation, and disaffection among key voter groups all have taken their toll, and an overwhelming share of Democrats profess to want someone new as their nominee, even if they can’t agree who that should be.

As we hurtle toward the primary season, Republicans continue to wrestle with the same paradox that has gripped them since that fateful ride down the escalator — Donald Trump is at once the cause of and solution to all of the party’s problems. If he behaves himself, acts rationally, and keeps the attention on Biden and his myriad issues, Trump could maintain his current advantage, turning out unlikely voters without turning off the persuadable habitual voters who decide elections. Of course, that’s not who Donald Trump is, and a campaign punctuated by high-profile courtroom drama will place him front and center in voters’ lives in a way we haven’t experienced in nearly three years. So long as Trump is the presumptive nominee, no lead is safe, even as Biden’s manifest weakness makes the race a true toss-up. If they’re not prepared to move on from the former president — and the base is clearly inclined to double down — Republicans have to harness Trump’s red state strength and capitalize on a favorable Senate map, where wins in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio would ensure control of at least one lever of power for years to come.

Continue Reading

NYT: Matt Gaetz Created a Win-Win Situation for Himself

I wrote a piece for the New York Times today breaking down Republicans’ three week demolition derby, what, if anything, the election of Mike Johnson solved (beyond a personnel problem of their own making), and the ongoing streak of win-win propositions engineered by the chaos caucus.

The upshot:

Taking a cue from Mr. Gaetz, the hard-liners have decided to take the win, at least for the time being. There are early signs that Mr. Johnson may be treated with a level of political grace not afforded to other hopefuls. Asked about a potential stopgap spending measure, the House Freedom Caucus chairman, Scott Perry, acknowledged as much to CNN’s Manu Raju. “It’s a different situation now. There was a trust factor with leadership last time,” Mr. Perry said. “I think you’re going to see a different viewpoint now.”

To the extent Mr. Johnson does find himself quickly in hot water, he can simply blame McCarthy and promise better outcomes in next year’s fiscal negotiations. But the underlying dynamics remain the same, as does the balance of power. While a narrow House majority offers negotiating leverage at the margin, anything that can become law must go through a Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by President Biden. No hard-line tactics or clever strategies can compensate for the fact that Republicans need to win more elections to carry out their agenda.

Which is all to say that the continuing functioning of government requires the same leadership behavior that felled Mr. McCarthy and that as long as the wing of the party that precipitated this month’s bedlam maintains de facto veto power over the speaker and his ability to bring legislation to the floor, the incentives remain the same.

High-stakes tests are rapidly approaching, with a deadline on government funding and decisions about Ukraine and Israel aid, among other supplemental requests. Whatever happens, it will take bipartisan cooperation. And as long as modest bipartisan outcomes are enough to paralyze the legislative branch for weeks at a time, stability remains at the mercy of nihilist whims.

I hope you’ll read the whole thing (unlocked link here) and let me know what you think. We discussed all this and more at length on this week’s episode of The Lobby Shop.

So where do we go from here?

Speaker Johnson comes in with more goodwill, credibility, and room to maneuver than we might have guessed three weeks ago simply by virtue of how the process played out. And that may be good enough to get him through the mid-November deadline unscathed.

But at some point there will come a need to do long term (and supplemental) funding, so eventually these issues will come to a head. Whatever becomes law will happen with significant Democratic support by definition, and beyond changing who sits in the big chair it’s not clear why the Problem Causers will look more kindly on bipartisan apostasy more kindly when it’s coming from a bona fide conservative.

Continue Reading

POLITICO Mag: Everyone Played Their Part

I wrote a short piece for a POLITICO Magazine series on the sacking of Kevin McCarthy and what it says about our politics.

No one should shed any tears for Kevin McCarthy. He got the job he sought his entire career, performed as well as anyone could have reasonably anticipated, and kept the balls in the air longer than he probably had any business doing. Caught between unstoppable force and immovable object, in the end, McCarthy chose to accept his fate rather than contrive some untenable transactional truce. Whatever his future in Congress holds, he’ll have a long second act as a Republican wise man, and his ouster will be mythologized into partisan martyrdom.

Nor can you blame House Democrats for declining to fend off — whether by action or inaction — a beast of the right’s own creation. In the end, they chose to serve as Matt Gaetz’s executioner because they could; because their deepening mistrust of the speaker eclipsed any perceived value in his ongoing survival; and because affording any measure of grace — even out of partisan self-interest — would have been met with fury by a base whose contempt for McCarthy matched the caucus’ own.

Even Gaetz, the jester of the GOP, achieved his vainglorious end, setting into motion a political trolley problem that accomplished what he couldn’t or wouldn’t by himself, and, perhaps most importantly, casting himself as the star of the show.

Ultimately the tragedy of this week — and for the immediate future of congressional politics, it is a tragedy — is that everyone involved acted rationally, almost clinically so, according to their respective incentives. The calculus that prompted McCarthy to cheat his own destiny as long as he did was vacated along with his office, and the circumstances surrounding his defenestration have already eroded what few bipartisan courtesies had survived to date. So long as the nihilist’s veto exists — newly operationalized, and suddenly with precedent — even the baseline functions of government will be in question.

Changing the rules of the House is a start. But so long as voters continue to channel their frustrations with Washington by sending people committed to burning it down, the cycle of dysfunction will continue.

Read the entire forum here.

Continue Reading

Liam’s Comprehensive Look at the Debt Limit State of Play

While I have sounded off about the debt limit prolifically on twitter, on CNN, on SiriusXM, in Axios (2), the Washington Post, Semafor (2), the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, PolitiFact, and probably a bunch of other places I can’t think of right now, the closest thing I have come to a long form take is this heavily edited discussion with the New York Times.

I finally broke down and wrote an exhaustive look at the issue in the form of a Q & A.

Read the full piece here.

Continue Reading
1 2 3 5