Schaden-Fraud: How McConnell Cost the GOP the Senate

Mitch McConnell massively miscalculated, lost his caucus, and it cost him control of the Senate

With Democrats poised to take the Senate, Republicans are already in finger pointing mode. Losing two seats in Georgia is a huge and historic failure for the party. Heading into the election, the Republicans were the clear favorites. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had incumbency and history on their side. Republican billionaires poured gobs of money into the state and every Republican under the sun stumped for the incumbents. Yet, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are on track to win Georgia by a larger margin than Biden did in November.

While it is certainly true that President Trump engaging in a very public, month-long fever dream about stolen elections was unhelpful and Loeffler and Perdue were suboptimal candidates to say the least. However, the person most responsible for the Republican defeat is Mitch McConnell. The Senate Majority Leader and self-appointed super villain massively miscalculated and fell victim to his own inherent cynicism.

McConnell’s Mistakes

The best evidence that McConnell messed up is that the same aides who burnished his reputation for political cunning were out in full force blaming others for the defeats. Josh Holmes, a top McConnell aide who built a lucrative career on the singular achievement of reelecting a Republican in the the most Republican state in the union, spent last night and this morning retweeting several tweets that laid the blame at the feet of Trump, Hawley, and others involved in challenging the Electoral College certification. CNN’s Jake Tapper also reported that according to a Republican official:

[National Republican Senatorial Committee] polling looked good until last week when Hawley announced his challenge, and the focus turned to overturning the election instead of being a check on the Dems.

The challenge to the Electoral College results and the Republican Party backing of election conspiracies may have emanated from the White House, but they are the direct result of decisions made by Mitch McConnell. In the month since the election, McConnell made error after error and demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of post-Trump politics and the makeup of his own party.

First, McConnell refused to acknowledge the election results for weeks. He was unwilling to even refer to Joe Biden as “President-Elect” and remained silent about Trump’s false allegations. McConnell had no doubt about the integrity of the results, but he thought stoking the fires of false allegations would help the Republicans prevail in Georgia. At the time, the Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported that McConnell’s decision to remain silent about Trump’s dangerous and ineffectual coup attempt was the result a specific cynical political calculation about how to jack up Republican turnout.

The opposite happened. While turnout was high across the board, Democrats turned out at a higher rate than Republicans. According to calculations by Nate Cohn of the New York Times, turnout in precincts that Biden won by more than 80 percent was four points higher than 80 percent Trump precincts. It’s rare that I will favorably quote Mitt Romney in this newsletter, but:

It turns out telling voters the election is rigged is not a good way to turn out your voters.

McConnell may not have been the person promoting these conspiracy theories most often, but he fully signed off on the strategy. After Trump, McConnell is the most influential Republican in the land and if he had given a speech the morning after election congratulating Biden and urging his party to accept the results, the outcome in Georgia might have been very different.

Second, Mitch McConnell failed to control his own caucus. The Kentuckian is known for his iron-fisted grip on his party, but despite his pleas a dozen of his members announced that they planned to challenge the certification of the Electoral College. This was an absolute failure of leadership from McConnell. His silence created a vacuum that was filled by the overly ambitious Josh Hawley. Anyone that has paid an ounce of attention to Hawley’s career would have known this was a giant risk of allowing the conspiracy theories to fester. After Hawley’s announcement, McConnell did nothing to stop others from joining in the effort. According to an article from Politico that was so full of pro-McConnell spin that it borders on satire:

Senators and aides say he is not actively whipping his members to side against Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who are leading the electoral objections in the Senate. Instead, he’s offering guidance when it’s sought, fielding calls from at least half the Senate GOP conference, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Yes, you read that correctly. McConnell led by not leading at all. The end result of this strategy was Loeffler and Perdue joining the coup attempt to avoid being booed at an election eve Trump rally.

Lots of people deserve blame for the Republican losses, but no one more so than Mitch McConnell. He played with fire one too many times and lost his majority. While I am skeptical that this will impact the hagiographic stenography that defines most of the coverage of the most dangerous Senator since Joseph McCarthy, the last several weeks should call into question the legend of McConnell as some sort of infallible genius.

As a Democrat and an American, I want to thank McConnell this one time for being so cynical that he can’t see straight. His incompetence might have saved the country.