On Mitch Monday

Today I’d like to explore what would have been the biggest story in American politics last week had it been a normal week. That begs the question: Is any week normal in American politics in 2024?
Last week Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced that he would not be running to retain his leadership position when the next Congress convenes. That begs the questions: Why? And what happens next?

As to why, I don’t have a definitive answer but a lot of possibilities. Let’s tackle that first.

McConnell’s health has not been the best of late. It is possible he wants to just take it easy in his final years in the Senate. While he has yet to make any announcement as to his future electoral plans, his seat is up in 2026 and if he desired not to run for reelection, I don’t think that would surprise anyone especially in light of last week’s announcement. Here is a wild option for you: was the leadership retirement the prelude to an early retirement in 2025? I know Mitch said he intended to fill out his current term but…

Health aside, McConnell is getting old and may think it’s time to back off based on age alone.

While either of or a combination of the above reasons make sense, I am skeptical that they are the primary reason(s).

Mitch has seen his power over his caucus erode a bit in recent years and may see the handwriting on the wall. I have always viewed him as evil, but patriotic (within bounds), both highly intelligent and skilled at what he does.

I think that he fears that Trump may be returned to the White House and he wants no part of Senate leadership in that situation. Even if Trump loses too many of his fellow Republican Senators are of the extremist variety. To a large degree McConnell controlled his caucus (ala LBJ) by controlling the campaign finances. Trump is simply sucking up too much of the party funding leaving less for a guy like Mitch to control and therefore many Republican Senators are more beholden to Trump than him. Keep in mind that there is a very good chance the Republicans can retake the Senate in which case the Republican leader will be the Majority Leader. Mitch also knows that if Trump retains control of the GOP it will never look the same; it is already a shell of what it once was.

An ancillary question to “Why” is, “Why now”. Mitch’s seat is up in 2026. He could easily stay in his leadership position and retire at the end of the next Congress. I don’t think he wants to undergo another leadership challenge. I think he would win it but I don’t think that is the way he wants to go out. Although today’s (and 2025’s) Republican party may have little resemblance to the one McConnell knew, loved and very capably led; McConnell doesn’t want to retire leaving his Senate seat and leadership seat both open. He loves the party too much to make defending his seat that important. (It is way too far ahead to predict but at this point a Republican successfully defending his open seat in 2026 looks like a solid bet.)

That brings us to the who part of What’s next. I’m going to go a bit unconventional here and predict Steve Daines of Montana. Daines is currently heading the Republicans’ Senate campaign. He is also very close with Donald Trump while not being a bomb thrower like Ted Cruz or acting like an idiot like Tommy Tuberville. Even if Trump loses and the Republicans lose the House (both very possible at this writing but nothing is guaranteed) they will most likely take the Senate which makes Daines look good and gives Trump the possibility of retaining control of the GOP. Trump doesn’t want to let go; the scam is too good. There are a lot of ifs there but that outcome is not illogical.

I have speculated a lot above but this much I’m sure of: whoever succeeded McConnell they will not have his parliamentary skills and will be even more evil. All things in politics are relative and I can see the day where we are looking back at the good old days of Mitch.

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