Should conservatives try to oust Mitch McConnell?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Mitch McConnell is never going to be a conservative hero. This much is obvious. What is more, he is not charismatic — and is said to resemble a turtle. (Strike three?) On the other hand, he might just be the most conservative Senate leader in history. And this is not an accident.

The truth is, you can’t be a rogue conservative and simultaneously rise through the ranks to Minority (or hopefully Majority) Leader. It just doesn’t work that way. By definition, any Republican elevated to the leader post becomes the establishment. You cut off his head, another grows back in his place.

And so, the question is not whether or not Mitch McConnell is a great conservative fighter, but whether or not an ounce of energy should be expended to oust him. This question does not exist in a vacuum. The first thing we must grapple with is the very real possibility that McConnell will survive a bruising primary, only to lose to a Democrat.

According to PPP, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is currently beating McConnell (albeit very narrowly) in a recent poll. It seems entirely possible that this could only get worse as McConnell is either battered from the right — or forced to tack to the right in order to stave off his primary challenger. (Of course, you could argue that this is proof McConnell is weak and that Republicans must replace him with someone who can inspire conservatives, and thus, win the General Election. But this lacks verisimilitude.)

Conservatives who are a). backing a primary campaign against McConnell, or b). running web ads calling him a chicken, must consider whether or not they are prepared to hand over a U.S. Senate seat to the Democrats — in a year when Republicans are hoping to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats.

Based on the last week or so, it seems very possible that McConnell could emerge from the primary beaten and battered, only to lose to Grimes in the General Election. And in the unlikely event that his primary challenger Matt Bevin defeats McConnell, the odds of Republicans holding the seat would decrease dramatically. There is a very real danger we could see a repeat of what happened in places like Delaware and Colorado in 2010 — where Republicans essentially gave away Senate seats.

This has serious consequences. While defunding Obamacare today may be quixotic, the notion that a Republican president elected in 2016 — coupled with a Republican Senate majority could repeal the law — is at least plausible.

But not if Republicans hand away incumbent Senate seats.

Look, I’m not a partisan, though I am admittedly an ideologue. But sometimes — sometimes — those two things are inextricable.

In 2010, conservatives sent a message to the establishment. You could argue that the election of Paul, Rubio, Lee, et al., more than made up for the missed opportunities with Buck, Miller, O’Donnell, et al.–in terms of both the symbolism — and by injecting new energy and ideas into the GOP. But at some point, politics is about math. And at some point, we must confront the fact that conservative policies don’t get implemented unless Republicans have the majority.

Now, I’m just a simple country boy. But from a strategic standpoint, it seems to me conservatives who want to overturn Obamacare might just be better off putting their energy toward helping Republicans like Tom Cotton defeat a Democratic incumbent.

Matt K. Lewis