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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NYT: Trial Will Test Trump’s Limits of Reaping Political Gain From Legal Woes

I spoke to Maggie Haberman for her New York Times story with Jonathan Swan on the political implications of the various Trump criminal proceedings.

Yet Mr. Trump was elected in 2016 despite a lengthy trail of negative incidents related to his character. And polls vary on how many of his supporters who say they will back him would abandon him if he is convicted in a criminal case.

“After the past eight years, that self-selection alone is enough to tell you they won’t have much trouble explaining away an adverse legal ruling, let alone one on dubious grounds,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist.

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Read the full piece here.

It’s a bit too glib to say LOL nothing matters–conviction is bad, full stop, and given the profound closeness of the past two elections, a stiff breeze could swing the electoral college one way or another.

But at the end of the day, the diminishing poll of Trump supporters who tell pollsters they would reconsider in the event of a hypothetical conviction are still people willing to say they’d support Trump. Intuitively that would be a meaningful threshold, and when you dig into the data, these tend to be strong Republican leaners who are likely to come home when faced with a binary choice.

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HuffPost: Why It’s So Hard To Force The House To Vote On The Senate’s Ukraine Aid Bill

I spoke to Jonathan Nicholson for his Huffington Post piece on the challenge of getting around House leadership to move a bill that otherwise has majority support.

“It’s a dreadfully slow, cumbersome, and brittle process that is not well suited for anything dynamic or urgent,” said Liam Donovan, a former Republican Hill staffer and a partner at lobbying firm Bracewell LLP.

Donovan said forcing the Senate bill onto the floor could take at least 40 days using a new discharge petition, and using the petition originally set up for the debt limit would mean sending the bill back to the Senate for final passage, which would also add time.

“In other words, it’s a terrible option that may eventually prove to be the cleanest dirty shirt,” he said. Donovan noted another option for giving aid to Ukraine may be forthcoming negotiations over how to avoid a government shutdown: “The big question in the meantime is how the House deals with regular appropriations, and whether these conversations can be merged.”

Read the full piece here.

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