Do Stacey Abrams and Steve Bullock Want to Make Mitch McConnell President?

By (Michael Tomasky)
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

So Stacey Abrams and Steve Bullock won’t run for Senate. They’re autonomous adult individuals, and they’re obviously allowed to do what they want to do. But... well, let me put it this way: If they were Republicans, I’d bet you anything they’d be running.

Why? Because Republicans see our political and party competition in much more existential terms than Democrats do. Republicans understand that the question of who controls the Senate is the whole ballgame. And the Democratic Party just doesn’t.

Here’s what’s going to happen if the Democrats don’t take the Senate. Assume they hold the House, and for the sake of argument some Democrat wins the White House. Hooray, hooray. The national nightmare is over. We can maybe get back to doing the people’s business again.

But Republicans have held the Senate. And let’s assume Mitch McConnell has staved off the challenge from Amy McGrath and remains the majority leader. What will happen?

Biden Doesn’t Get It: McConnell’s Gotta Go if Democracy Is Gonna Live

I’ll tell you. Nothing. Whether it’s President Biden’s more measured proposals or President Warren’s boldly liberal ones or President Sanders’ radical ones—nothing. Things will pass the House. President Biden’s build-on-Obamacare bill will pass the House easily. I’m not sure a Medicare for All bill could pass even the House, so let’s leave that debate for another day. But the point is, from health care to the minimum wage to climate change to voting rights to infrastructure to monopoly policy, a Democratic presidency and House will do things.

And those things they do will get to the Senate and die. McConnell has promised as much.

Oh, public pressure might be such that he’ll be forced to let something slip through. A good bet is an item like a minimum wage increase to $10, maybe even adjusted to inflation, which coming from Moscow Mitch will seem progressive. That and maaaybe one other very modest measure on which he releases 10 or 11 Republicans from purple-ish states to vote with Democrats will give him all the cover he needs to downshift back into Grim Reaper gear.

And all the big plans of the 2020 Democrats will join so many other big plans before them and go to the Senate to die. There will be no significant health-care expansion. There will be no climate change bill of any kind. And there will obviously be no people’s revolution.

And your average person who doesn’t follow politics closely and just expects a president to get into office and pass the stuff he/she said he/she would pass will look at the dysfunction and say, “Well, there’s another one who lied to me.” McConnell of course knows this, as do Republicans generally: When government seems not to work, the party of government (Democrats) get the bulk of the blame, especially when they control the White House, too.

And then we’ll get to the 2022 midterms, and liberal voters will be dispirited, and right-wing voters will be cat-piss angry like they were in 2010 at the mere idea that the gummint should do something about anything, and the Republicans will hold the Senate and retake the House. We will then replay the same grim mud-wrestling match that we lived through in the Obama years, with the Democratic president unable to pass anything at all—while inequality is growing even greater and the planet keeps getting that much hotter.

Those are the stakes. They are clear as day. Why don’t Abrams and Bullock—and others who’ve opted out—see this? Why don’t Democrats generally see this? It reminds me of the 2016 election, when right-wingers of all stripes marched to polls saying “Donald Trump, whatever—I’m voting to hold that Scalia seat,” while too many left-wingers were saying, “Hillary gave a speech to Goldman Sachs, so I think I’ll vote for Putin’s friend Jill Stein, and what, what Supreme Court seat?”

Republicans do not think this way. They get it. Mitt Romney surely didn’t want to be a senator after losing a presidential race. He was a multimillionaire with a house so big it had an elevator for his cars, remember?! But by God, he ran, to make extra sure Republicans held onto that seat in Utah. Florida’s Rick Scott probably didn’t want to run for Senate last year. Nobody wants to go from being governor to senator. Nobody! But he ran, because people told him he had to, that he was the only one who could beat Bill Nelson and make that seat that had been Democratic for 18 years Republican for at least the next 12 and maybe 18. Republicans get that we’re in a long-term war here. Democrats, eh.

Now, as it happens, there’s a good declared candidate in Georgia for the David Perdue seat. Teresa Tomlinson is the former mayor of Columbus who has a solid reputation in the state (note: She is an occasional Beast contributor, and I have edited her). The Perdue seat is the “non-Atlanta” seat, and Tomlinson, being from outside Atlanta, would seem a good fit. So she (or someone else) could win, especially if the Democratic presidential candidate is putting actual resources into the state. Tomlinson seeking the Perdue seat and Abrams the Johnny Isakson one would have made a strong pair.

Abrams is doing important work on the voter suppression issue. And besides that she’s a natural veep contender, especially for Joe Biden. But Democrats need to understand: The 2020 election represents their best chance at taking control of both the executive and legislative branches for the foreseeable future. And if they don’t, they’ve effectively made Mitch McConnell the president.


There are times when people have to put personal preferences to the side. Kudos to John Hickenlooper for seeing this. Beto O’Rourke probably should have done the same, although most people say the leading Democratic candidate in Texas is strong. But without Senate control, there is zero chance that any of these big things Democratic candidates are talking about will happen—let alone the crucial matter of making the federal judiciary more liberal.

And I mean, for a decade. You get it now, Democrats?

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