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.

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