It appears that in the last week, both Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have decided they are going to run against Barack Obama instead of their actual opponents. This is a colossally stupid move that will almost certainly backfire on both of them. Here’s why.
Last week, Barack Obama dangled some red meat in front of Republicans by declaring the Trump administration’s response to Covid-19 to be “a chaotic disaster.” He said this on a private conference call with former staffers, but he knew full well that his comments would be leaked to the press before all the phones were even hung up, because everyone in America who likes him (which is most people) has been anxiously waiting on him to chime in. Right on cue, Republicans swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker. Within a day, Trump was furiously Tweeting about “Omabagate” (which no one seems able to explain), and McConnell proclaimed that Obama is “classless” and “should have kept his mouth shut,” which some have interpreted as a racial dog whistle that will resonate with a portion of the base as a watered-down version of “Know your place, boy.”
Trump and McConnell are both so deeply underwater in their approval ratings that they will never see the light of day. Trump has yet to break a 50% approval rating in any major poll, and he has consistently hovered around 43% in almost every major poll since taking office, a historic low for a first-term president. McConnell is in the hole even worse, with an approval rate of just 26%, and the 5-term Majority Leader is statistically tied with his Democratic challenger in November. In deep red Kentucky. And on top of that, McConnell has made the GOP so toxic to the general public that his home state of Kentucky elected a Democratic governor just six months ago, the same state Mitch has to run in six months from now with a 26% approval rating. Ouch!
So these two historically unpopular goons have decided to attack a monumentally popular ex-president. Barack Obama left office in 2017 with a 50% approval rating, and his popularity has only increased since leaving office. In fact, he is now officially more popular than Jesus Christ among Americans, and 44% of Americans consider him the best or second-best president of their lifetime, followed by Bill Clinton at 33% and Ronald Reagan at 32%. Captain Clorox is nowhere in sight.
Donald Trump has never been a very smart guy, as evidenced by his continuous business failures over the decades (he bankrupted a casino that was laundering mob money, and lost more money than any other American between 1985 and 1994). The only thing he’s ever actually been good at is manufacturing an image for himself, which was bolstered by Mark Burnett’s selective editing on The Apprentice to make him appear as a savvy, successful businessman when he was actually anything but. On top of his natural bad judgement, he seems to be so deep in the ravages of mental and neurological illness that he is completely incapable of making a rational decision. So I expect stupid decisions from him.
Mitch McConnell, however, is another story. Mitch is no dummy, and he hasn’t thrived in national politics for 35 years by being naive or not being able to read the tea leaves. McConnell is a Sith master. He knows his craft. Why would he let himself get roped into a confrontation that he can’t possibly win instead of focusing on his actual opponent, who has a real shot at winning? The answer is desperation. Donald Trump is now so toxic that there is a real possibility he may cost Republicans not just the White House in November, but also the Senate majority, which is more important to Mitch than Trump or anything else.
Republicans appear poised to lose Senate seats in Arizona, Maine, and Colorado, and are facing back-alley knife fights in Montana, North Carolina, and Georgia. Kansas is an open seat following the retirement of Pat Roberts, and while still favored to go Republican, Kansas did elect a Democratic governor in 2018. Throw in McConnell’s problems at home in Kentucky, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a Republican bloodbath in November. It has long been believed in political circles that McConnell would hitch his wagon to whatever horse is most likely to protect his majority, and that he is Machiavellian enough to toss Donald Trump overboard if he imperils it.
It appears we may be getting there, and Mitch is backed into a corner where he has no choice but to pick a fight he knows he can’t win. It’s getting ugly, and this is evidence of how desperate McConnell is getting.