The question on every workaday American’s mind Wednesday morning was: How is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell feeling about the ol’ Senate map?
“I don’t deal in feelings,” McConnell told ABC News. “The question is, they’ve got to count the votes and then we’ll figure out where we are.”
McConnell’s reflexive disgust at a question about feelings is charming. But while he may not deal in feelings, one suspects he might be having a certain feeling quite strongly. A feeling he’s familiar with. He might—might—be very mad at Donald Trump for potentially blowing Republican Senate control for the second time in as many election cycles.
Consider how Trump has gone out of his way to harm Senate Republicans, and whether you would be very mad about it if you were the top Senate Republican.
In 2020 all Republicans had to do to maintain control of the Senate was win 1 of 2 runoffs in Georgia. This should have been an achievable goal! They did it quite easily in 2008, with voters wanting to put a check on the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
But in 2020, some Republicans didn’t feel the need to apply the same check to President-elect Biden because they didn’t believe there was a President-elect Biden. Trump insisted that the election had been stolen from him and forced Georgia GOP Senate candidates to push that message or he wouldn’t campaign for them. The net effect was to dampen GOP base turnout in the runoffs relative to Democratic turnout. Republicans lost both runoffs and control of the Senate, and Mitch McConnell lost his job as majority leader, in part because of Trump’s making up stories about a stolen election.
The following day, a mob of goons violently ransacked the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. On that day—one day after Trump had cost McConnell his position as majority leader, which was followed up by egging on a bunch of dingdongs to trash McConnell’s workspace—the former majority leader absolutely dealt in feelings, delivering a scorching speech against Trump on the Senate floor. At the time, they hadn’t spoken in about a month. They still haven’t.
Soon enough, though, McConnell reverted to reluctant acceptance of Trump’s apex role in Republican politics. He gave another searing speech against Trump during the second impeachment trial, sure, but voted against convicting him. A few months later, he called in personal favors from fellow Senate Republicans to kill legislation that would have created a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate Jan. 6. Forget the past! What mattered to McConnell, then, was retaking Senate control, and a Jan. 6 committee with Republican buy-in would’ve distracted from his messaging against the Biden administration.
Republicans still have a very real chance of taking back the Senate. But Trump has only made it harder for them to do so, every step of the way.
In a diffuse sense, Trump created a litmus test in which Republicans in swingy Senate seats had to at the very least dip a toe into 2020 election denialism to get through their primaries. That was a general-election knock against all of them.
More directly, Trump was personally responsible for the recruitment of Herschel Walker, a recruitment McConnell’s team was first wary of, before accepting him because it was not worth the fight. Also, Trump single-handedly pushed Mehmet Oz into the GOP Senate nomination in Pennsylvania with his endorsement. (Trump, today, is reportedly blaming his wife for this pick.) He also endorsed J.D. Vance, a buddy of his son’s, in an Ohio Senate race that Vance carried only after McConnell’s super PAC had to bail him out to the tune of tens of millions of dollars that could have gone to not-Ohio. Trump’s anger at Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for not overturning the state’s 2020 presidential election results dimmed McConnell’s ability to recruit Ducey, a good candidate, to run for Senate. Instead, Republican primary voters—with Trump’s endorsement—went for Blake Masters, a novice with an unsettling affect, who’s hanging on for dear life against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
McConnell’s super PAC bailed out, or tried to bail out, a lot of Trump’s preferred candidates this election cycle. The Senate Leadership Fund spent tens of millions of dollars in each of the Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina Senate races. Trump did plenty of rallies for his hand-picked group of mediocrities but mostly sat on his cash.
Had it not been for Trump’s lazy malignance, McConnell could be celebrating incoming Senators-elect Doug Ducey and Dave McCormick today while waiting to see what the final majority count would be. Instead—unless Democrats can take both Nevada and Arizona, which would be enough for them to retain Senate control already—control could once again come down to another Georgia runoff, on Dec. 6.
And Trump, who’s planning to announce a presidential campaign next week, could once again screw up Georgia by making all the news about him. While we’re at it, let’s not forget that Trump has also been throwing racist nicknames at McConnell’s wife (Trump’s former secretary of transportation). And McConnell can’t do anything about any of this because Trump still controls the Republican Party.
So, if you were Mitch McConnell—if you were this man—how might you be feeling today? Would you be so mad at Donald Trump that you could barely contain yourself? Or would you, say, not “deal” in such feelings?