Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is an icily calculating politician who proved his partisan resolve over the last year by holding up the process to replace Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia despite Constitutional rules, precedence, and judicial competency.
Throughout his career, McConnell has been described as a “modern-day Machiavelli” and a “master manipulator” by critics for governing conspicuously in favor of partisan or electoral advantage rather than ideological consistency, and he has even referenced this by jokingly calling himself “Darth Vader.” His conspicuous lack of personality has been effective for Republican minority power politics in the Obama era, but how will his political shrewdness play out when Republicans are in full control of a government headed by Donald Trump and can’t simply coalesce around saying “no” to every Democratic idea.
For starters, Trump is undeniably an anti-establishment president, as he has virtually no political experience. This has been very evident throughout the presidential campaign, and Trump’s petulant personality and childish grasp of the responsibility of the American Presidency has been calamitous for GOP public relations. Trump’s historically low (and sinking) approval ratings and daily Twitter tantrums mean that not a single day goes by without national controversy for the Republican Party, and, now that Trump will be the chief executive of the government, he will have to work with McConnell in articulating and passing legislation. No doubt Trump’s limited attention span and unlimited capacity for self-conscious hurt feelings are going to hamstring Republicans’ agenda to the great chagrin of Mitch McConnell, who is at the political zenith of his career.
It is unclear how McConnell feels personally about Trump, because he went out of his way to say virtually nothing about him throughout the presidential campaign, but with McConnell’s machiavellian sense of strategy always looking toward the next election, it would be surprising if McConnell didn’t recognize what potential threats Trump’s destructively thin skin and foul personality are to Republican politics and governance.
Meanwhile, Trump is embroiled in the developing dossier scandal’s salacious allegations that are both impossible to concretely disprove and likely to continue unearthing Trump’s financial conflicts of interest. Coupled with the fact that Trump lost the popular vote by an unprecedented number of votes, the suspicion that he has been financially compromised by Russia is threatening the legitimacy of his presidency. Trump’s pathological inability to ignore criticism is not helping the GOP change the subject, and Mitch McConnell must be very aware that the GOP would be better of without Trump involved in governance. No doubt, establishment Republicans would much rather have actual-Republican and actual-conservative Mike Pence as president instead. The dossier scandal and conflicts of interest made even more suspicious by Trump’s utter disregard for transparency despite his multiple promises to release his tax returns (as well as other pertinent information) very well may give opportunity for impeachment. If Trump’s presidency begins to crash and burn into the gutter of historical infamy, expect McConnell to jump at the opportunity to wash the GOPs hands of Trump’s impropriety and preserve GOP hopes for the next election.
The strategy is obvious, but is Mitch McConnell machiavellian enough to backstab his party’s own president? I wouldn’t be surprised.