You’re Going to Miss Mitch McConnell When He’s Gone
Last week, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, was hospitalized after he tripped and sustained a concussion. That was alarming to me—but not as alarming as the realization that McConnell is older than both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
No, this isn’t another column lamenting America’s gerontocracy. Indeed, McConnell has the energy and acuity of a 55-year-old man—which is why this latest spill shook me. It is my contention that although McConnell is far from perfect, losing him now would be devastating for the Republican Party and America.
I’m not alone in my thought process. As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes, McConnell’s injury “left some GOP senators feeling unsettled and worried about the future.” For example, one Republican senator told him: “I think, who would be our next leader and what kind of leader would that person be? Yeah, I do worry about that.”
The GOP Blew It By Calling Everything ‘Woke’
More on that in a bit. First, though, I want to focus on McConnell’s age; the man is 81 years old.
Recently, National Review’s Dan McLaughlin (“Baseball Crank” on Twitter) described just how old Joe Biden is. “One of Queen Victoria’s children was still alive when Joe Biden was born,” McLaughlin noted. “So was Orville Wright. So was Grover Cleveland’s widow. Martin Luther King Jr. was 13. Elvis was seven. Anne Frank had been in hiding for four months, in a country whose exiled queen had sat on the throne since 1890.”
Each of these things occurred during McConnell’s life, too. Heck, McConnell contracted polio as a child (Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was introduced in 1955). McConnell was present when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. McConnell is also the longest-serving leader in senate history.
I am not bringing this up to argue that McConnell is somehow unfit for the job or that he should retire. Quite the contrary. In fact, I’m making the opposite point. McConnell might be indispensable.
Sure, he has disappointed me over the years (his low point might be his refusal to vote to convict Donald Trump at his post-Jan. 6 second impeachment trial), but it’s hard to imagine a Republican leader in this era who is simultaneously an effective conservative leader (he’s probably more responsible than anybody for confirming conservative judges) and willing to stand up to MAGA forces on behalf of institutions and liberal democracy.
Trump Owes It All to McConnell’s ‘Disgraceful Dereliction of Duty’
Rather than recounting all the times McConnell stood boldly against Trump and Trumpism, let’s consider what he did literally the day before his fall: He publicly denounced the selectively edited Jan. 6 video that ran on Fox News. “I want to associate myself entirely with the opinion of the chief and the Capitol Police about what happened on Jan. 6,” McConnell said. “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”
This was no small thing. Video of McConnell (and other Republican senators) condemning the video Fox News aired was widely shown by news reporters, including Bret Baier of Fox News’ Special Report.
This is significant when you consider how things might be if a different Republican were in McConnell’s shoes. After all, McConnell’s counterpart in the lower chamber, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, provided the security footage to Fox News in the first place.
Now, odds are that if and when Mitch McConnell leaves the U.S. Senate, he won’t be replaced by a MAGA populist like Sens. Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz. Not immediately, at least. Still, just this year, McConnell had to fend off a leadership challenge by Sen. Rick Scott (who was endorsed by Trump). Ask yourself whether Rick Scott would be more like McConnell or more like McCarthy.
Why Does Kevin McCarthy Even Want to Be Speaker at This Point?
It’s too early to hit the panic button, but these recent developments serve as a reminder that McConnell won’t be here forever. And even if the person who replaces him wants to do the right thing, that person will not have the political skills, experience, toughness, and savvy that McConnell possesses.
He’s in the autumn of his years. The end of the McConnell era is near; we should start preparing for it. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative, McConnell’s exodus—whenever that occurs (and let’s hope it’s a long way off)—should be greeted with sadness and trepidation. You’ll never know how good you had it until it’s gone.
He’s really the last bulwark against the barbarians at the gate.
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