March 7, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Mitch McConnell isn’t a hypocrite

He’s telling us who he is, the perfect nihilist, but we won’t believe him.

Courtesy of CNN, via screenshot.
Courtesy of CNN, via screenshot.

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The word “hypocrisy” was in the air yesterday after the outcome of Super Tuesday affirmed that Donald Trump will be the GOP’s nominee. Republican leaders quickly got in line, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

McConnell, as you’ll recall, accused Trump of being “practically and morally responsible” for the J6 insurrection. Even so, he said, Trump has “earned the requisite support of Republican voters [and] it should come as no surprise that, as the nominee, he will have my support.”


Not really. 

His endorsement of Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s nominee is not a contradiction. It is not backtracking. It is a declaration of belief – that might makes right and power is the ultimate morality.

To be a hypocrite, McConnell would have had to believe what he said the day the Senate Republicans acquitted Trump. He said January 6, 2021, was “a disgrace.” He called the attackers “terrorists.” He accused Trump of “unconscionable behavior” and “dereliction of duty.” He said: “A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.”

Though he seemed to suggest that J6 forever disqualified Trump from reentering the office of the presidency, he didn’t mean it. We know he didn’t mean it, not because he endorsed Trump on Wednesday, but because he endorsed Trump mere weeks after suggesting that J6 forever disqualified him from reentering the office of the presidency.

On February 25, 2021, a Fox host asked if McConnell would endorse the GOP’s nominee, even if it were Donald Trump. McConnell: “Absolutely.” 

On Wednesday, McConnell said his endorsement should not come as a surprise partially because of his reputation among members of the press corps for being a bulwark, so to speak, between Republican elites and maga Republicans. That reputation has always been more fiction than reality, but it nevertheless stems in part from saying that Donald Trump is “practically and morally responsible” for the J6 insurrection. 

But he also said his endorsement should not be surprising because he already endorsed Trump. He even cited the Fox interview! It was as if he said, look, I told you I believe in nothing. You didn’t believe me! So it was only surprising to those of us who made the mistake of taking him at his word. Strip away that credibility, however, and you can see his endorsement is not an act of hypocrisy at all. He didn’t qualify his endorsement with principles. He didn’t apply ethical conditions. It didn’t matter who the nominee was going to be. If it’s a man whose “unconscionable behavior” led him to “dereliction of duty,” so be it.

McConnell isn’t a hypocrite. He’s a man so bereft of principle and moral feeling, of putting any stock in higher-order things, even loyalty and allegiance to the rule of law and the US Constitution itself – he’s so completely barren, a shell of a human animal, the perfect nihilist – that it would be shocking in the extreme to most people if they understood him properly. They don’t, however, in part because McConnell is so good at conning everyone in believing that he believes anything.

That includes everyone alleging hypocrisy. In effect, outraged liberals, Democrats and others are providing cover for his perfect nihilism, preventing a full picture of him from coming to light. His endorsement is not a contradiction. It is not backtracking. It is not a concession to the fact that Donald Trump will be the nominee. It is a declaration of belief – that might makes right and power is the ultimate morality.  

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Once you drop the idea of hypocrisy, something new comes into view – a political worldview among Republicans that, if widely understood, would be crippling to their national agenda. It is a worldview in which some people are above the law, checks and balances are arbitrary, equality is at least a nuisance (especially gender equality) and questions of morality are settled by who dominates and controls whom. We know this worldview would be crippling if widely understood, because Republicans like Mitch McConnell go to great lengths to hide it. And every time you accuse them of hypocrisy, you’re lending a hand.

Lots of people are OK with power for power’s sake. Trump will be the GOP’s nominee, after all. But to win a national election, McConnell and the rest of the party must bring around respectable (white) people who believe in things, such as the rule of law, even if they only believe in those things superficially. They must find a way to make it seem like nominating a man with designs on dictatorship isn’t a furtherance of the J6 insurrection, but a reasonable act of normal American politics.

So they lie and lie and lie. Here’s Erick Erickson: “Remember all the people outraged by the GOP selecting Trump are siding with a party that went all in with BLM, excused riots and vandalism, dismisses shoplifting crimes, claims violence doesn’t apply to property damage, and even now is muted in response to left wing anti-Semitism. Spare me your lectures on Trump being a threat to democracy after trying to take him off the ballot only to be rebuked by a unanimous Supreme Court. The Democrats have no moral authority to lecture anyone else.”

To be sure, there are tiny kernels of truth here, but the goal is smearing Joe Biden and the Democrats as extremists so that the truly extreme act of supporting the man “practically and morally responsible” for the J6 insurrection doesn’t seem so extreme. By lying so aggressively and so nakedly, the Republicans and their allies will over the coming months try to con us into believing they believe in higher-order things when we know they don’t. Donald Trump is going to be their nominee, after all. It’s power for power’s sake. Hypocrisy has nothing to do with it.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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