Is McConnell leading the GOP off an electoral and political cliff?

Is McConnell leading the GOP off an electoral and political cliff?

In DC, Senator Mitch McConnell has a reputation as a savvy operator, but we may remember this year as the year the 78 year old Republican leader started showing his age and lost his grip on the complicated politics of the nation and its capital city. 

His brazen manipulation of the Impeachment process left many his swing state Senators, all of whom voted to acquit a clearly guilty man, trailing in their races.   He’s enabled the President’s great failure on COVID, and has not stepped up with a second fiscal package to ease the pain of American workers, giving his candidates little or nothing to say on the two biggest issues of the election.  And now Justice Ginsberg’s tragic passing.  He jumped out quickly, dishonoring her legacy, and committed the Senate GOP to an indefensible and ugly power grab right before the election, one that more likely than not will remind voters just how extreme the Republican Party has become.  And this last point really matters – if in poll after poll 57% of the country is not with your Presidential candidate, and you are losing the Senate, and likely to lose seats in the House, why would those same voters who are in the process of rejecting your party reward a nasty act to seize more power right as its being taken away? 

In our view, McConnell misread this moment, as he has misread the other big ones this year.  Democratic challengers have strong leads in AZ and CO, smaller but meaningful leads in IA, ME, NC, and are competitive in at least six more races, AK, GA (2), KS, MT and SC.  Perhaps the strategy is to try to give his struggling red state incumbents a bit of a boost.  But how this plays out in those other states – GA, IA, ME, NC – could determine the fate of his majority.  And what is hard for us to see here today is how these swing suburban voters who‘ve fled the GOP in recent years are going to embrace a move which ensures the ending of Roe vs Wade, the end of the ACA and all that it brought and means more high powered guns on our streets and more dead children? The country is rejecting the current radicalism of the GOP, not asking for more of it.  

And early polls confirm our analysis.  A poll by GOP pollster Scott Rasmussen found voters wanted to wait until after the election to move ahead with Ginsburg’s replacement 52-41; a new Reuters poll found it breaking 62-23 (40 points!) for waiting till the next President.  If these polls hold, and they are likely to, it means that moving now on a new SCOTUS appointment could actually hurt the GOP more than it helps – in a race where they already trail, where Democrats are raising records amount of money and will outspend the GOP, and where initial data suggests Democrats have become highly energized by what’s happening here ($100m raised in 48 hours) and are likely now to enter this final stretch with more intensity than the Rs.  

Two Republican Senators have already said wait till next year.  Two more and Trump and McConnell will not have the votes to move.  I don’t think we can count on the GOP sticking together in the coming days – the new precedent set by the GOP in 2016 regarding election year appointments left lots of video which is going to wear down and hurt Senators in their districts; moving now is unpopular; and there just at some point have to be limits to the GOP’s corruption, lying, cheating and increasingly illiberal behavior.  We don’t think picking a far judge right before an election while going back on a precedent is going to bring back any lost GOP votes.  It may give the GOP a consolation prize for what is likely to be a bad election, but this one feels like a truly desperate act, one which we predict will over the long term do the GOP and the country far more harm than good.