In early 2009, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laid down a marker for his depleted GOP caucus after it took a thumping in 2008, ultimately losing eight seats in total.
“It’s important to keep an eye on regaining the majority," McConnell counseled, urging them to "stick together as a team.” The goal: Make Barack Obama a "one-term president" by sucking the life out of bipartisanship.
It's hard to imagine now, but the GOP’s twisted concept of governance was fresh at the time, dawning a new day in Washington. Almost overnight, the Republican Party morphed into a death cult of take-no-prisoners obstructionism—a transformation McConnell helped will into being to resuscitate a party relegated to congressional irrelevance.
But now that his party's evolution from gridlock devotees to ride-or-die nihilism has become bad for business, McConnell's second thoughts are leading him to a rather head-scratching alignment with his old Senate colleague and Democrats' top dog, President Joe Biden.
In early January, McConnell fled the House GOP speaker chaos, joining Biden in Kentucky during his announcement of a $1.6 billion federal grant to help ease congestion on the Brent Spence Bridge to Ohio.
Last week, after Biden pilloried Sen. Rick Scott of Florida for his proposal to sunset Social Security and Medicare, McConnell piled on.
"I think it will be a challenge for [Scott] to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America,” McConnell said, damning the reelection bid of a senator from his own party.
At the same time, McConnell has been making a desperate effort to redirect the House maniacs away from the very tactic he introduced into the GOP bloodstream over a decade ago.
Several times in the last month, McConnell has reminded McCarthy and the maniacs that the U.S. has "never" defaulted on its financial commitments by declining to raise the debt ceiling.
Just this week, McConnell issued a directive to McCarthy during a press conference, telling him, "I think the American people need to know, there's not going to be a default. Not going to be a default."
Apparently, private texts aren't exactly doing the trick.
At the same time, Biden is also urging House Republicans to back away from the debt-ceiling detonator and negotiate over a budget. In fact, he's getting ready to wipe the floor with them during budget negotiations much like he did during his ad-libbed takedown of Republicans targeting Social Security and Medicare.
Daily Kos' Joan McCarter has the deep dive, but the short version is, Biden is revealing that House Republicans' desire to repeal all the Democratic measures passed last Congress would actually add more than $3 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
But the evolution of McConnell in this political environment is noteworthy. It's not as if he suddenly discovered a conscience and pledged to do right by the American people. Power for power's sake is still McConnell's North Star, and he's eyeing a particularly promising Senate electoral map in 2024.
Rather, McConnell’s "conversion" from hardcore obstructionist to occasional Democratic collaborator is a tacit admission that, on balance, Biden's politics are far better for him and his caucus than the politics of the House GOP bomb throwers.
So in the short term, don't be surprised to see McConnell—mastermind of the GOP’s no-compromise credo—occasionally sidling up to Biden while giving House Republicans the heave-ho.
Where that will leave him next year as the presidential contest gets under way is complicated. Unsurprisingly, McConnell has pledged to support the Republican nominee even if it's his archnemesis Donald Trump.
But ultimately, McConnell will be helping McConnell, and that could involve a lot of contortions for the 80-year-old shape-shifter. And as ever, McConnell has no one but himself to thank for his inauspicious present-day predicament.
How can you tell when a poll is actually high quality? Natalie Jackson, research director at PRRI, joins us on this week's episode of The Downballot to discuss that and more. Jackson tells us the indicators she looks for to determine whether a survey is worth taking seriously, what she thinks the future of polling aggregation ought to look like, and why white evangelical Christians are the real outliers when it comes to religious groups' views on abortion.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also break down Democrats' big special election victories in Pennsylvania; new efforts by progressives to pick their preferred GOP opponents in two key Wisconsin races; the first true retirement from the House this cycle; and a proposal to increase the size of the House, which has been capped at 435 members for more than a century.