From a conservative perspective, Mitch McConnell earned a lot of distrust from the conservative base during the Obama era. I was one of his critics, most of my colleagues at RedState were highly critical, and activists around the country were very dissatisfied with how he handled a Republican majority against a Democratic president.
There wasn’t enough fighting and a whole lot of concession-making. It was infuriating.
But, from a strategic perspective, McConnell probably played it smarter than we gave him credit for. Hindsight being what it is, I am fully willing to admit I was wrong and that McConnell acted in the best way, strategically.
Political action should be divided into two categories: the strategic and the partisan. There is often overlap between the two, but there are times when they are in opposition to each other. McConnell’s Senate in the Obama era was one of those times. The goal then was to stymie Obama’s big plans while letting smaller but still progressive plans slide, and don’t force anything too controversial that Obama will just veto anyway.
And it worked. Despite the insanity that was the Republican primary and Trump’s campaign, the Republicans swept Democrats out of office in 2016 out of fear that the more extreme tendencies of the Democratic Party would continue to hurt jobs and the economy overall. Economic recovery didn’t truly start until Trump came into office and job creators and business investors felt “safe” enough to begin growing again. This election followed three federal election cycles of continuing Republican growth in Congress, with Obama facing down two chambers controlled by the opposition.
Fast forward four years and we see a (likely) Republican majority in the Senate, a slim Democratic majority in the House, and a Democrat in the White House. The Senate is where all the action is going to be, assuming the Republicans keep hold of the two Senate seats in Georgia (signs on the ground and rhetoric from Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock indicate Republicans are doing better than polling suggests). So, based on past performance, how will McConnell handle this split?
Given the results of the 2020 election and the voting public’s lack of trust in the ultra-progressive side of the Democratic Party, I think you’re going to see McConnell opposing Biden a little more aggressively. If he can shut things down a little more loudly, continue to beat the drum on the socialistic tendencies of the left, he’ll be able to help his party maintain their hold on the Senate in 2022 and possibly make enough gains in the House to reclaim it in the midterms. It is very likely that the Senate numbers after the midterm won’t change much. The seats up for grabs are not very purple, though you have a seat in Illinois and in New Hampshire that were both Republican before flipping Democratic in 2016.
That will put an already stymied Joe Biden in an even worse position going forward, forcing him to have to negotiate in order to get anything done or, like Obama before him, simply whine and complain about Republicans.
The thing to note is that voters are more sympathetic to presidents who oversee negotiated legislative victories because it shows they can get things done. It’s one of the reasons Pelosi took a gamble at holding up COVID-19 talks in the last months of the 2020 election. It was undoubtedly a partisan move, but it kept Trump from securing a victory with a split Congress and, therefore, made him look weaker. Had he gotten a second wrong of COVID aid for citizens, he might have been able to pull out a victory in 2020.
Biden is coming into office with a weak hand if the Georgia elections turn out as I expect they will. His administration is already pulling in several House members, which could make Pelosi’s slim advantage even slimmer. Worse yet, the cries to vote against Pelosi as Speaker grow louder and, while they probably won’t beat her, only serve to further divide the party. That will make things very tough for Biden, who will want to be more moderate but will be forced to make some pretty progressive plans to keep portions of his party happy.
That will play right into McConnell’s hands, too. It may be him against the House and the Oval Office, but he’s been a pretty successful fighter for a while now. He might pull this off, too.