March 4, 2024 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

Mitch McConnell doesn’t deserve any compliments

The damage McConnell’s done is incalculable, writes Stephen Robinson.

Courtesy of MSNBC.
Courtesy of MSNBC.

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Editor’s note: The following essay first appeared in The Play Typer Guy, Stephen’s newsletter about politics and the arts. –JS

Mitch McConnell announced on Wednesday that he was retiring from a lifelong career of constructive evil. He plans to complete his current Senate term, which ends in 2026 or after dark spirits pull him down to hell (whichever comes first), but his time as Republican Senate leader has finally ended, with America all the worst for it.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who was never a fan of McConnell’s and recently called for his resignation as leader, released this measured statement: “Mitch has had a long and honorable tenure as the Republican leader. I am grateful for his service. He made the decision that it was time to step down as Leader, and I certainly respect his judgment in that regard. He has many legacies, but none is more consequential than confirming hundreds of principled constitutionalists to the federal judiciary.”

Mitch McConnell didn’t simply disagree with Democrats or liberalism in general. He was a cynical political operator who gleefully shredded every institutional norm as he made life worse for the very people Democrats expect to vote for them.

Cruz doesn’t pretend that McConnell’s departure saddens him, and he correctly identifies his singular achievement — a federal judiciary stacked with far-right hacks who are actively rolling back every recognized freedom from the past 50 years.

It’s a stark contrast to Democratic President Joe Biden’s response when asked about McConnell’s third act villain exit: “I’m sorry to hear McConnell stepped down … I’ve trusted him, and we have a great relationship. We fight like hell. But he has never, never, never misrepresented anything. I’m sorry to hear he’s stepping down.”

If Biden enjoyed working with McConnell, that’s his business, but the rest of what he said ventures beyond the realm of personal opinion and into outright fantasy.

MAGA doesn’t redeem McConnell
Mitch McConnell didn’t simply disagree with Democrats or liberalism in general. He was a cynical political operator who gleefully shredded every institutional norm as he made life worse for the very people Democrats expect to vote for them.

When McConnell obstructed Barack Obama at every turn, one might generously (and naively) chalk that up to hardball politics, but McConnell started reshaping the federal judiciary through trickery and deceit. He “calculated, correctly, that most of the most contentious issues in our society eventually wind up in the courts,” conservative columnist Mona Charen remarked in a 2023 interview. “It is critical, if you want certain outcomes, to be sure that you have the right mix of judges.”

So McConnell filibustered and often refused to even consider Obama’s nominees, holding open 100 vacancies for Donald Trump to fill. This included 17 spots on the US court of appeals, which hears tens of thousands of cases a year and often has the last word judicially.

He boasted in 2019 about his lasting impact on the courts: “Everything else changes,” he said. “I remember during the [2017] tax bill, people were agonizing over whether one part of the tax bill was permanent or not. I said, ‘Look, the only way the tax bill is permanent depends on the next election.’”

“What can’t be undone is a lifetime appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of the judge is to follow the law,” he added. “That’s the most important thing we’ve done in the country, which cannot be undone.”

The past few years and certainly this week should’ve ended the lie that Republicans just want judges who’ll simply “follow the law.” This current corrupt and illegitimate Supreme Court is wholly McConnell’s doing. Trump picked names out of a Federalist Society catalog. You can train a monkey to do that, and McConnell probably would’ve preferred working with the monkey. McConnell was the one who blocked Obama’s rightful Supreme Court pick — disenfranchising the millions of American voters who re-elected the president for a full four years. He invented an absurd excuse for keeping the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat vacant until after the 2016 election and didn’t bother pretending that he’d obey his own rule if the situation occurred under a Republican president.

He killed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, ensuring that his narrow majority could confirm reliable partisan actors who would otherwise never meet the former 60-vote threshold. Neil Gorsuch received stolen property. Brett Kavanaugh is a credibly accused sex offender. Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed in a drive-through Senate hearing after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died just weeks before the 2020 election.

It’s probably technically true that McConnell has never “misrepresented” how terrible he is, but that’s hardly grounds for a sorrowful tribute.

McConnell’s legacy might eclipse Biden’s
Business Insider suggested that Biden might genuinely miss McConnell, pointing out that the two found ways to work together during his presidency. Of course, those deals were always under McConnell’s terms and the ones most likely to benefit other well-off white men. Yes, McConnell helped pass Biden’s infrastructure bill, which will build bridges and roads that women might have to travel in secret if they want an abortion wherever that’s still legal.

McConnell doesn’t deserve a Nobel Prize because he’s not a complete political nihilist who doesn’t think the US should default on its debts. White men’s stock portfolios aren’t immune from a senseless global recession.

According to all the frantic fundraising emails I receive daily, democracy is at stake in this election. McConnell has consistently proven an enemy to democracy. Putting the Supreme Court on the 2016 ballot arguably helped convince skeptical Republicans to vote for Trump, who remains an existential threat to national security and global stability. McConnell delayed acknowledging Biden’s obvious election victory in November 2020 because he believed pacifying MAGA would help Republicans win the January Senate runoffs and hold the majority. He bears responsibility for enabling the lies that led to January 6. Worse, McConnell refused to convict Trump in his second annual impeachment for his attempted coup. He had one last chance to do something decent, like Sen. John McCain casting the decisive vote that saved the Affordable Care Act. However, the consistent theme of McConnell’s career is that he never does anything decent. He only acts in what he perceives as his immediate best interest.

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It’s usually white men online who defend Biden when he compliments Republicans, especially McConnell. They insist that this is how Biden won in 2020 — white swing voters apparently appreciate the treacly sentiment, but it minimizes the critical role minorities (especially liberal women) played in defeating Trump. They all rightly loathe McConnell. Democrats didn’t hold back a 2022 red wave because Biden whispered sweet nothings in our ears about Mitch McConnell. They came out in force in 2022 and every special election since then because they’re infuriated that McConnell’s handcrafted Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Biden could afford the luxury of generosity if McConnell were a vanquished foe, but he leaves the Senate having completed his life’s work, which we’ll all have to live with long after he’s dead. Roe fell during Biden’s presidency. That’s poor timing and not directly his fault, but he should still resent McConnell. Anyone for whom liberal policies and basic democracy mean anything should curse McConnell’s name, not praise him as a worthy sparring partner. Hell, Joe Frazier died hating Muhammad Ali and for good reason — Ali beat his ass. McConnell beat Biden and Obama’s asses, and America might never recover.

Stephen Robinson is the publisher of The Play Typer Guy, a newsletter and podcast about politics and the arts. Follow him @SER1897.

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