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Mitch McConnell’s Modest Contract with America

2:35 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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The only reason to think President Obama would work with a Republican congressional majority is that he genuinely believes a policy is a good idea or thinks public opinion requires a compromise to protect his legacy and keep the White House in Democratic hands. In other words, Republicans have reason to hope, but they shouldn’t expect too much change—at least not until 2017.

McConnell’s assessment of what Republicans can accomplish the next two years will strike his fans as Madisonian realism, but it will come across as establishmentarian weakness to his detractors who are now waging a bitter primary campaign against him in Kentucky. That feud escalated this week after McConnell told the New York Times: “I think we are going to crush them everywhere.”

“I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country,” he said. The Times reported that McConnell was “referring to the network of activist organizations working against him and two Republican incumbents in Kansas and Mississippi while engaging in a handful of other contests.” But McConnell told me he was referring to just one organization—the Senate Conservatives Fund—and does not have a preference in open-seat races, such as Nebraska, where the SCF has endorsed a candidate.

“I think it’s important to remember a couple things. Number one, the Senate Conservatives Fund started the fight with me. They picked the fight. I didn’t,” McConnell said. He called said the SCF is simply out to make a buck and has “been giving conservatism a bad name.”

“A group that buys a luxury townhouse on Capitol Hill that has a hot tub and a wine cellar strikes me as a group primarily interested in doing well for themselves,” McConnell said. “We know their business model is only to criticize Republicans, ignoring the fact with their donors that we have a Democratic Senate and that Barack Obama is in the White House. So that’s the group that I singled out. I’m a fan of the enthusiasm that the Tea Party movement writ large has brought to our country.”

McConnell blamed the SCF, a group instrumental in engineering the “defund Obamacare” campaign that precipitated the government shutdown, for focusing on “cooked up tactical differences that have done a lot of damage to our ability to govern.” Asked if the shutdown did lasting damage to the Republican party, McConnell said: “There would have been, but fortunately once the attention turned to Obamacare, 16 days later than it would have otherwise, I think we got a second chance, and the American people are taking a second look at us.”

“The lesson obviously that was learned was that the Speaker and I were correct when we said to Republicans as early as July that that was a strategy that had no chance of success,” he added. “That was proven.”

“I think it’s important to remind everybody that only winners make policy, losers go home,” McConnell said. “We’ve lost four or five seats in the last two cycles with candidates who regretfully simply couldn’t get elected in a general election contest.” The Senate Conservatives Fund has certainly endorsed some candidates who couldn’t win in states like Colorado, Delaware, and Indiana in recent years, but conservative activists point out that McConnell has made some pretty bad picks, too. In 2010, McConnell backed Trey Grayson over Rand Paul in the Kentucky primary. He also supported Florida governor Charlie Crist (now running again for governor, this time as a Democrat) over Marco Rubio.

Does McConnell regret supporting Crist and Grayson? He didn’t directly answer the question after being asked twice, but after the third attempt, he conceded: “I ended up being on the wrong side of the Kentucky primary in 2010. We all ended up being on the right side of the Florida primary before it was over. And obviously I’m proud of the fact that Rand Paul has become a friend and ally and supported me in my campaign.”

Conservative activists resent being blamed for Senate losses in states like Missouri and Indiana, while establishment Republicans never take the fall for their candidates who lost in deep-red states like North Dakota and Montana. “We didn’t do as well as we should have. There’s no question about that,” McConnell said, when asked about those losses. But he argued that failures in North Dakota and Montana weren’t like losses in states like Indiana because there wasn’t a competitive primary in which the establishment candidate beat an electable conservative challenger.

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