Ten Miles Square


June 01, 2011 9:30 AM Does McConnell Want The GOP To Win The White House in 2012?

By Stan Collender

What was  Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) doing last week when he announced…proudly…that he would not allow an increase in the debt ceiling without significant cuts in Medicare?

At first blush this may not seem like that big of a deal given the continuing demands from the GOP leadership in the House for substantial spending cuts before it will allow a debt ceiling increase.  But it is.  This is not a call for reductions in general; it’s insisting on cuts in an exceedingly popular specific program.  And it’s not just any specific program: It’s Medicare, the currently most politically sensitive program of all and the one that, because of the Republican plan to make substantial reductions, cost the GOP a House seat in upstate New York just barely a week ago.

Possible conclusions:

1.  McConnell likely can’t stay as minority leader without unequivocal support from the GOP’s tea party-like base and, in the wake of the widespread criticism of Newt Gingrich for abandoning the House GOP Medicare reduction plan (Newt was against it before he was for it), he used this statement and extreme position to shore up his own bona fides with that wing of the party.

2.  McConnell wants to be majority leader if the GOP takes over the Senate and needs the base to do that.

3.  McConnell is from the state that also elected Rand Paul to the Senate and he runs the chance of looking like a liberal Democrat in comparison to his junior senator if he doesn’t make statements like this.

But the one that’s most intriguing is that McConnell has decided that the GOP winning the White House in 2012 isn’t as important to him as the GOP getting the majority in the Senate and that requires continually energizing the base rather than trying to win over independents and Democrats.

If Obama wins and the GOP takes over the Senate, (Roger Ailes aside) McConnell will be the most important and powerful Republican in the United States.   That won’t be true if there’s a Republican president, of course.  But if all of the best known GOP candidates lose the Republican nomination in 2012 and the 2012 nominee then loses in the general election, the next tranche of potential Republican presidential candidates will be at least two years away.  In the meantime, McConnell will be the one negotiating with the White House and stopping its initiatives.

The McConnell statement makes a great deal of sense in this context.  Openly attacking Medicare as he did strengthens his credentials with the base even if it weakens them with everyone else.  But that’s okay because it’s the base that’s needed to elect Republicans to the Senate next year and that would strengthen McConnell even if it makes life harder…or impossible…for the GOP presidential candidate.

If this is true, the implications for what can and will happen between now and November 2012 will be clear and extreme: No compromises on any issues, especially those having to do with taxes, spending, the deficit, and national debt; further criticism of the Federal Reserve, especially if it tries to do something that improves the economy in the short-term; and little to no progress on anything that would look like a win for the White House.

[Cross-posted at Capital Gains and Games]

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Stan Collender has written the “Fiscal Fitness” column for Roll Call for the last three years. He is a partner at Qorvis Communications, where he spends most of his time working with financial services clients.


  • Doctor Whom on June 01, 2011 4:45 PM:

    I think it's simple than this. McConnell knows what will happen if the U.S. defaults. he knows that the GOP will be taken to the cleaners next fall if the Ryan budget becomes a campaign issue. So forces cut medicare funding so as to ward off economic catastrophe and the GOP is saved.

  • hopeless pedant on June 01, 2011 5:12 PM:

    Under the heading of how "It's OK if you're a Republican:"

    What is Harry Reid said that unless the Repubs agree to an immediate increase on taxes for the wealthy, no Dem will vote for increasing the debt limit?

    It is the same thing McConnell is doing, and would have the benefit of actually being fair and reasonable.

    But the moment he (or Obama) tried that, the ruling elite in the media would attack and ridicule, citing the irresponsibility of such behavior.

    But McConnell is not held to the same standard.

    The Repub strategy is clear - let's make sure we go into a deeper recession, the easier to win the election next year. They want higher unemployment. That's a feature, a plus in all their plans.

  • mcc on June 01, 2011 5:29 PM:

    A potential possibility 4:

    - McConnell wasn't thinking when he said that, doesn't intend to follow through on it, and possibly doesn't even remember he said it. There was no deeper meaning to it except that it felt good to him to say it at the time. Because the media does not hold Republicans responsible for their words and actions, everyone will conveniently forget McConnell opened his mouth in a week or two.

  • JM917 on June 01, 2011 6:25 PM:

    I think this nails the strategy of the GOP high command. They know that they're unlikely to win the presidency in 2012, but they do aim to hold the House and gain the Senate. That accomplished, they figure they can grind down Obama throughout his second term by stonewalling him on every time he tries to stimulate the economy, raise taxes, impose regulations, or even make appointments. Hell, they'll probably even try to keep him from filling any cabinet vacancies. And should another slot on the Supreme Court open up (e.g., if Ginsburg and/or Breyer leave), they will use the filibuster to keep those seats unfilled by anyone except an Alioto clone.

    That way they can run Obama into the ground and await a chance to impeach and convict him. And so what if the economy goes underwater? That's part of the game too.

    Just hang on until 2016, when President Jeb Bush and VP Chris Christie install a permanent Republican regime, fortified by a 7-2 SCOTUS majority.

    It's called long-term thinking.

  • DavdT on June 02, 2011 12:02 AM:

    First of all, for Obama to be re-elected makes it harder for the GOP to take over the Senate--even if a successful Obama has no coattails whatever (which I seriously doubt)--because they will need to gain four seats rather than three.

    Second, what good does energizing your base do if you also thereby energize your opponent's and (on Medicare at least) the latter is the larger of the two? I just don't see how this helps you win Senate seats.

    I just doubt very much McConnell wants Obama to be re-elected. He's just afraid that he will face a revolt in his own ranks if he doesn't take a hard line--that's all.

  • John Puma on June 02, 2011 6:01 AM:

    I would submit that the grand old Republican tradition of election fraud is every bit as important as the proud and aggressively ignorant GOP base.