Mitch McConnell Is a Master Troll

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is a hilarious, fun-loving guy. Just ask him.

“We need to have a little fun in this business,” the Senate majority leader told Politico in a recent interview. “I used to call myself Darth Vader when I was back in the campaign finance wars. I appreciate they’ve picked up on what I call myself, which is the Grim Reaper when it comes to things like the ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Medicare for None.’ I appreciate the attention.”

My daughter also appreciates attention. She’s six years old and still learning the ropes, so she blows it every now and again in typical 6-year-old fashion by interrupting a conversation she isn’t part of or drumming loudly on the table so we all know she’s there. “Remember, sweetie,” I will remind her, “there’s a really big difference between good attention and bad attention.” McConnell is 71 years older than my daughter. He still hasn’t learned that lesson because he has not been made to, and will likely remain immune from that education for the foreseeable future.

After speaking at a Chamber of Commerce gathering in Paducah, Kentucky, on Tuesday, McConnell took some questions from the audience. A man rose and asked, “Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?” McConnell took a long swallow from a tall drink — it looked like iced tea but could have been old blood for all I know — and responded with a wide grin, “Oh, we’d fill it.”

Several members of the audience guffawed loudly — He just owned the libs! Did’ja see that? So cool! — and when reports of his quip hit the news wires, much of the country experienced the now-commonplace duality of being simultaneously astonished and not at all surprised.

After the passing of arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, President Barack Obama found himself positioned to make the third Supreme Court appointment of his administration and nominated Merrick Garland for the position. Like Obama’s previous nominees — Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter and Elena Kagan to replace Justice John Paul Stevens — Garland was eminently qualified and not a radical choice by any plausible measure.

McConnell, however, said no. Leaning on a highly tenuous election-year precedent dating back to 1880, the majority leader, along with Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), refused to grant Garland even the courtesy of a hearing. Instead, McConnell ran out the clock in hopes a Republican would win the presidential election. That November, his hopes were rewarded, and the Garland nomination was cast aside in what will go down as one of the dirtier examples of raw power politics in modern U.S. history.

But that was then, and this is most unfortunately now. McConnell’s glib answer in Paducah on Tuesday was yet another reaffirmation of the old internet acronym, “IOKIYAR,” which stands for “It’s OK If You Are Republican.” What was unthinkable in 2016 under a Democratic president during an election cycle is now thoroughly acceptable under a current and possibly future Republican president during an election cycle. Like a turtle, McConnell didn’t even blink when he said it.

“It was the most direct acknowledgment yet,” reported The New York Times in a tone drier than Gobi Desert sand, “that Senate Republicans would treat a judge nominated by a Republican president differently from one nominated by a Democratic president.” Not everyone was so placid in response:

Bromwich makes a solid point: Anyone who is actually surprised by this has not been paying attention, though room must be made for awe at the sheer brazenness of McConnell’s hypocrisy. For the senior senator from Kentucky, however, this is about more than just “owning the libs” or pleasing Donald Trump. It’s a canny re-election strategy he relentlessly deploys at the expense of the nation.

See, Mitch McConnell really digs being the longest-serving Republican Senate leader in U.S. history and wants to keep it that way. Every time he pulls his “Grim Reaper” routine — quashing the Garland nomination, for example, or attacking Medicare for All proposals from Democrats — it is red meat for the Republican base. Red meat for the Republican base means no primary challengers, which dramatically improves his 2020 re-election prospects in Kentucky.

So here we are once again, wading through the filth left in the wake of yet another shameless congressional Republican. The week has already been polluted by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), who joined forces to block a deeply needed $19.1 billion aid package intended to help victims of recent natural disasters. The bill was set to sail through by unanimous consent until Roy and Massie threw a spanner in the gears.

Their reasons? The bill as drafted would add to the national debt and includes no funding for Trump’s border wall. Fellow Republicans, especially those from states affected by fires and floods, were vocally outraged, though none of them bothered to ask their recalcitrant colleagues where this concern for the debt was when they voted for Trump’s trillion-dollar tax cut in 2017.

I have said many times in this space that perfect shamelessness is among the most potent weapons in the Republican political arsenal. Now comes Mitch McConnell, Master Troll, flapping his hypocrisy in the face of the people with a lack of shame that is almost operatic in its intensity. Voters in Kentucky have seen fit to return him to the Senate since he first won his seat in 1984, and the odds of his re-election in 2020 are strong; to date, no Democratic candidate has officially stepped forward to challenge him, and he won his last race in 2014 by double digits.

Whether Mitch retains the title of majority leader depends on the will of voters in the 21 other states where Republican senators are up for re-election, on the effectiveness of Republican voter-suppression and gerrymandering efforts, and on all the other grim wild cards on the political table in 2020. In both the immediate and long term, McConnell remains safe within his Senate fortress, immune to any consequences for his ruinous behavior. We are all the worse for it.