Some days, even in America in 2017, there’s just a little bit of just desserts delivered to the most deserving. For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Tuesday. It was a day that just might have finally exposed McConnell as less than the brilliant political strategist and tactician that he’s long been reputed to be. Here’s a recap of his day: he had to admit defeat on the latest Trumpcare zombie, Graham-Cassidy, conceding that he could not whip enough votes; he lost one of his top senators, a committee chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) who declared that he’s retiring; his candidate in the special election in Alabama, Sen. Luther Strange, lost by ten points to Roy Moore, a guy who makes Ted Cruz look reasonable.
Trump spent much of August publicly bashing McConnell but stopped after the two held a private meeting several weeks ago. But now the president is back badmouthing the Senate leader again.
During a dinner with conservative activists on Monday night at the White House, Trump laid into McConnell, according to two attendees. Trump told the activists that McConnell was “weak” because he couldn’t pass the GOP health care plan, and the president complained at length about how Republicans had failed him on the issue, while asking the activists what they should do next.
Trump added that he was disappointed in McConnell for not changing the Senate filibuster rule so that only 51 votes are needed to pass legislation, also dubbing his resistence [sic] to the idea as “weak.” That criticism does not ring true to Senate Republicans, given that Democrats have barely been able to use the filibuster due to McConnell mostly holding party-line votes.
McConnell has used every procedural trick in the book—and invented a few new ones—to get his undeserved reputation as a master strategist. He’s an obstructionist and that’s about all. His master strategy was simply being the opposition, stopping everything the Senate Democratic majority and then, when Republicans regained a slim majority, President Obama attempted. Turns out that stopping stuff is a lot easier than making stuff happen. The same tactics that worked to oppose Obama—stubbornly taking a position and refusing to budge—don’t work when you’re trying to manage people who are ostensibly on your side. Particularly when those people have the egos the size of your average senator.
But repealing Obamacare—the one thing that Republicans have spent nearly a decade obsessing over, the one thing that gave Republicans a majority in Congress and arguably the White House in 2016—that’s the thing McConnell should have been ready to make happen. The thing a master strategist would have had a plan for. He didn’t. McConnell’s very bad Tuesday just put an exclamation point on that fact.