A New Angle

Does Mitch McConnell really want Harry Reid to lose?

President Obama greets employees at a sheet metal factory in Maryland.

Each Friday before the election, I have posted some of the questions I’m trying to answer based on news of the week or something that’s come up in my reporting. This is the last entry. Thanks for reading. Feel free to weigh in with answers—or with more political questions—at slatepolitics@gmail.com or in the comments section below. Here are this week’s questions:

Can Obama really eat his spinach? If Republicans take control of the House, very little is going to happen in Washington unless there’s a decline in the distrust between President Obama and the leaders of the Republican Party. Both sides believe the other acted in bad faith from the start. According to House Minority Leader John Boehner, some of his private interactions with the president have gotten testy. “He looked at me and he slapped the table and said, ‘Boehner, it’s not my policies that are paralyzing these employers. It’s you Republicans who are scaring them.’ “

One way relations might improve would be through some personal interaction. Boehner is a clubby guy. He’s a long-serving legislator. He might reach out to the president. But will Obama reach back? The president welcomed Republicans early in his administration. He even had GOP leaders over to the White House for drinks. He also paid a public visit to the GOP caucus during the health care fight, and put in a strong performance. But when it comes to potentially difficult one-on-one interactions, the president isn’t always eager to engage. He didn’t meet face-to-face with Gen. Stanley McChrystal for months after naming him his top commander in Afghanistan. He waited 18 months to meet one-on-one with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He didn’t call Tony Hayward, the former BP CEO, during the oil spill. In March, he treated his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu like a root canal.

Does Mitch want Sharron? In a return to tradition broken by former Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist against Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has not campaigned against his counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But presumably, McConnell would prefer to increase the size of his caucus, which means he’d like Sharron Angle to win in the Nevada Senate race.

But are we sure about that? McConnell has a working relationship with Reid. (Indeed, Reid says they are friends, though that can mean a wide variety of things in the Senate.) Whoever replaces Reid may be more difficult to deal with—especially if it’s the combative Chuck Schumer of New York. Reid’s defeat would bring in Sharron Angle, who is unpredictable. One of her signature campaign promises is that she won’t go to Washington and embrace the establishment. Alternatively, she has boasted that she’ll go to Washington and be able to make demands on McConnell. Mr. Minority Leader, it’s the gentlelady from Nevada on Line Two. Again. Angle also grows the DeMint caucus, that group of conservative Republican senators, acolytes of Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, least inclined to listen to their leader when he makes the case for compromise.

Nonsense, say GOP Senate sources. McConnell would take Angle in a heartbeat. Here’s why: Schumer or Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who would also be a strong candidate to replace Reid, allow him to make a stronger ideological contrast than with Reid. The DeMint caucus may get larger, but so will the less combative Republican caucus, which will likely include new members Blunt, Portman, Hoeven, Coats, Kirk, and Ayotte.

Should Democrats have attacked the Tea Party more? For months, Democrats have tried to make specific Tea Party candidates like Rand Paul and Sharron Angle stand in for the entire Republican Party. Should they have done more to define and attack the Tea Party itself more thoroughly?

At a meeting with reporters sponsored by the centrist Democratic group Third Way Pollster Pete Brodnitz made the case that the Tea Party helped the GOP by allowing the Republican Party to shed its past. People no longer thought of it as the party that had been in control of the White House when the financial crisis happened. They thought of it as a new entity built by the grass roots. “They took off their ties and they were a new party,” said Brodnitz. Some Democrats argue that this is why Democrats should have worked harder to show that the Tea Party is the same group that caused the economic problems about which they are now so unhappy. But voters are motivated more by a dislike of incumbents, many of whom are Democrats. Members of the party in power are the ones who needed to lose the necktie or find some kind of costume to make voters forget who they are.

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