The Writing on the…Wall: What is Mitch McConnell Thinking?

If, heaven forfend, I were Mitch McConnell, here’s what I’d be thinking…

I know:

  • the Democrats will likely keep the house and
  • take the senate in 2020
  • Trump’s election in 2016 was a historic fluke unlikely to be repeated. Lightning will not strike the same place twice.

From this it follows that the only way to maintain a grip on power is to hold the presidency.

What else do I know?

  • Trump and the GOP won’t be able to get anything done in the next two years
  • The economy will probably tip into recession some time during the 2020 campaign
  • The Mueller investigation will likely conclude within the next few months
  • It is probably going to be damning
  • The House is probably going to impeach
  • The start of the 2020 presidential campaign will unfold against the background of impeachment proceedings, and my senators battling to be re-elected will be facing the headwind of an unpopular president besieged by impeachment and implicated in potentially criminal wrongdoing

We’ve gotten what we wanted from Trump:  deregulation, tax cuts, judges. By rights, we shouldn’t even be in power—it’s a miracle we got this far. Time to cut our losses, board the lifeboats, and paddle out to safety before the ship goes down; but first, help set the charges to blow it up and hasten its sinking…

Privately, my colleagues and I know full well that Trump is not only totally unfit for the job, but probably sort of insane. With the departure of Mattis, we are now genuinely alarmed at what he might do, and how that might damage the party in the long term.

Regarding the shutdown, I can see the writing on the Wall. Trump won’t budge on the Wall, since it’s all he really has left at this point. The GOP has lost the messaging war on this, and Trump owns the shutdown. But we can be part of the solution.

When Pelosi and the House pass the bill to reopen the government, make Trump an offer: “We will pass the bill with 51 votes; if you veto it, we’ll come back with 67 votes to override the veto.” The latter would be humiliating for Trump, a body blow to his authority, potentially crippling to his approval rating, which has sunk to Charlottesville lows. It would seem to be an offer he can’t refuse.

But he will. He is constitutionally (!) incapable of compromising and giving in on a core promise to his base and a foundation stone of his political brand and identity. He would take a veto override on the chin and go out on the trail to rail against the swamp.

At this point, I face a critical juncture: Continue to enable Trump and allow him to further take over the party, or find a way to force him out? Remember that he is an outsider, an interloper—he is just passing through. I need to think about the long term.

I quietly begin a series of secret meetings with the Democratic leadership to negotiate an impeachment cooperation strategy. I need 20 GOP senators to convict—that’s all I need—preferably one’s not up for reelection in 2020, and not from Trump country. They are the sacrifice that must be made, the ones who have to fall on the sword.

Moreover, there is a strategic benefit here: the Democratic candidates are all planning to—itching to—run against Trump. If he’s gone, they’ll be flat-footed. Remove him before the campaign picks up steam, and you change the game. Kasich, Corker, Flake, and who knows who else will throw in and challenge Pence, blame the recession on Trump’s trade wars, and promise to heal the country in a way that the rabid socialist Democrats cannot. They offer a middle ground between Trumpism and socialism.

This is the only way to save what face we can and the only hope for holding onto a slice of power in the middle term.

I try to smile, even though my smile creeps even me out, and it is only ever just a try.