George Orwell’s magnum opus “1984” concerns itself with an authoritarian political party wielding the full power of a surveillance and misinformation state to dominate the general populace with a constant bombardment of intentionally falsified and contradictory versions of reality. A mere two years ago, Donald Trump’s nightmare quotation at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention (“what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” said the President of the United States) was widely considered to be the new millenium’s echo of a famous snippet from Orwell: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
How fitting, then, that the architect of our current political situation, one Addison Mitchell “Mitch” McConnell Jr., first darkened the doors of the Senate in the year 1984.
McConnell was representing Kentuckians on the national stage a full decade before I was even born. He has been a senator for 36 years, and leader of the Republican wing of the Senate for 14. McConnell witnessed the tailend of Reagan’s presidency, both Bushes, Clinton and his impeachment fiasco, Obama’s historic victory and now the age of Trump. It does not seem like much of a stretch for Kentucky Democrats to call him a creature of Washington.
Could 2020 be the year the people of Kentucky finally dethrone him? It’s not entirely likely. Although his approval numbers are firmly underwater (somewhere between 32 and 35 percent) in his home state, McConnell has bet the entire fabric of our republic on his reelection bid. Since his inauguration in 2017, there has not been a time when a majority of Kentucky voters did not approve of Trump’s presidency, despite all of the impeachment controversy which harmed the president’s numbers elsewhere, according to Morning Consult polls. If you have not been keeping up, McConnell cynically crushed all attempts to allow witness testimony in the Senate impeachment trial and kept his party in line all the way to the acquittal vote, stomping on constitutional norms and common decency in the process. He shamed all Kentuckians by standing in front of the country and admitting on national television that he would coordinate the trial with the White House despite his role as an ostensibly impartial juror.
Why would McConnell go to such extremes for a lawless president he doesn’t even seem to like? Because he’s facing reelection this year and any move outside of Trump’s step would surely result in a deranged Twitter rant to the president’s millions of followers and a depression of Kentucky conservative votes McConnell will need in November. McConnell has been praised and criticized in equal measure for his keen sense of political self-preservation, and his defense of Trump is no different. It’s also worth noting that McConnell seems to be correct that his years of service to the conservative cause would be wiped away by one of Trumpworld’s multifaceted lashings. Remember, this is the same year in which we find ourselves watching the director of CPAC, the high holy conference of the GOP, saying he could not guarantee former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s physical safety after Romney voted against Trump in the impeachment trial.
So McConnell’s strategy is to give Trump anything necessary until 2021 when his Senate seat is comfortably his again for another six-year term, excusing any number of impeachable offenses, corrupt schemes and self-dealing ventures by all the president’s ghouls. Fair enough. Will it actually work? That largely depends on the efforts of his Democratic rivals. Kentucky state representative Charles Booker is making a fantastic Bernie Sanders-style case for progressivism in a small, rural state, but in my opinion it’s going to take Kentucky many more years to become purple enough for a senator like Booker. The only type of person likely to beat McConnell is a center-left pragmatist that can pull away voters left stranded by McConnell’s embrace of the far right. They will also need to raise an unimaginable amount of money, considering McConnell’s tens-of-millions heavy war chest and momentum (McConnell 2020 is the best funded Senate campaign in Kentucky history).
Enter Amy McGrath, a retired 20-year Marine who became the first woman to fly a combat mission for the United States Marine Corps. She is currently raising money like a presidential candidate, with over $9 million on-hand according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Unfortunately, this still puts her below McConnell in terms of finances, but to come so close to a three-decade career politician is nothing to sneeze at either. Her list of endorsements is a mile long, including a whopping 12 former 2020 presidential candidates (itself a who’s who of relevant Democratic senators, representatives and governors).
McGrath has certainly the best chance to take down McConnell, but his unscrupulous ads will likely paint her as a liberal out of touch with Kentucky priorities. Even though McConnell’s polling is not much better than recently ousted governor Matt Bevin, Trump is almost certain to win Kentucky this year, and McGrath would need a sizable number of those voters to break the party ticket and vote for her along with Trump, which seems extraordinarily unlikely.
However, if Trump’s 2016 win taught us anything, it is that the career politician can sometimes lose to a newcomer. Hopefully we are ready to end McConnell’s reign over the swamp Kentucky voters dislike with so much vigor.