I can't argue with the position that McConnell ultimately took (we'll leave that to morons like Cruz), but to call it a profile in courage would be absurd. And yet that's exactly how people close to McConnell are pitching it:
“McConnell’s not going to be defined by any outside groups. He’s always going to be motivated by what he thinks is best for Kentucky and the country,” said Billy Piper, McConnell’s former chief of staff. “He’s an easy target for some because he’s not afraid to take positions.”Actually, he was very afraid of taking this position. According to The Hill, McConnell wanted to vote against proceeding, but Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski refused to cast the deciding vote unless McConnell joined her. And that, in turn, forced McConnell to rally several other colleagues to give him some cover.
In other words (a) McConnell wanted a clean debt limit but (b) didn't want to admit that. Ultimately, he was forced to make a decision, and his preference for a clean debt limit to precedence. That's a profile in timidity, not courage, yet apologists on the right argue:
We may strongly disagree with his analysis, but we cannot deny that McConnell knowingly sacrificed his own personal political interests for the sake of what he thought the best combination of policy and political outcomes would be for the Senate Republican Conference as a whole and for the country. There is no other explanation for it.[...] it wasn’t a cowardly vote; it was a courageous one. Sometimes courage can be misguided or even foolhardy, but that doesn’t make it any less courageous. Conservatives might think he is the wrong leader for Senate Republicans. We must, however, acknowledge that he did show leadership, and in doing so, afford him at least a grumbling form of respect.Not only is that the lowest standard for bravery I've ever seen, it's also ridiculous to assert that McConnell's motives were purely altruistic. Even if McConnell honestly wanted to avoid a catastrophic default, he also is smart enough to know that a default would almost certainly hand his seat to the Democrats. Yes, he would probably lock down the GOP primary, but can you imagine the political blowback from swing voters if McConnell had let the country go bankrupt?
If McConnell had been willing to take on Cruz months ago, sparing us the drama of the debt ceiling nonsense, that could have qualified as political courage. But he didn't, waiting until the very last moment to cast his vote for a debt ceiling increase—and only moments later, when his vote wasn't required, flip-flopping back to opposition, never once having the courage to say the members of his party who supported default were the lunatics that they are.
When it's all said and done, maybe McConnell will deserve credit for managing to walk on eggshells. But not for leadership.