After Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led an overwhelming majority of Republican senators to acquit former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, some mainstream media outlets are now portraying McConnell as a sincere politician who is trying to move the GOP to the “center-right party” it was before Trump.
But in fact, McConnell helped to build the Republican Party into the party of Trump, by spending the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency engaging in unprecedented obstructionist and partisan politics. And these mainstream outlets have written about it before.
On Tuesday afternoon’s edition of CNN’s Inside Politics, anchor John King claimed that McConnell was trying to achieve a “balancing act” in the wake of his own efforts to end the impeachment trial and acquit the former president for the January 6 attack on the Capitol. McConnell wants to move on from the Trump years, King claimed, while also potentially opposing Trump if the former president should support Senate candidates that McConnell doesn’t think can win.
CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju also chimed in: “What is the road map of this party post-Trump? And Mitch McConnell is trying to steer this party away from the incendiary politics of Donald Trump and move into the more establishment, right-of-center, conservative ideology that really has defined the Republican Party for the last generation, up until Donald Trump came and rewrote the way the Republican Party appears right now.”
In reality, McConnell helped to build the “incendiary” Republican Party of today, with his relentless obstructionism during the Obama years, his repeated public declarations that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” and his unprecedented blocking of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee from getting even a Senate hearing.
Politico has followed a similar course, building up McConnell’s image as some kind of elder statesman — even as everyone knew that he would lead his party in letting Trump off the hook in the impeachment trial. The title of its daily Playbook a day before the final Senate vote was “Could McConnell surprise us all?” The piece asked readers to “indulge us for a moment to play out the extremely unlikely scenario that he does.” After all, it inquired, “could he be viewing this impeachment vote as a legacy-defining moment?”
But it was Politico that was still “indulging” McConnell’s rhetorical shell game in the next day’s headline — “‘Practically and morally responsible’: McConnell scorches Trump — but votes to acquit” — and in the following day’s piece, “McConnell's next chapter: Guiding the post-Trump GOP. That next piece stated that the combination of McConnell’s public denunciation of Trump’s actions, plus his vote to acquit in the impeachment, was “encapsulating the dilemma of the man who now must guide a GOP riven by infighting over whether it's the party of Trump or the center-right party he wants them to be.”
But Politico ought to know that this is a flawed framing of McConnell’s politics. One of its own articles from December 2016, “The Victory of ‘No,’” explained the course that the party had taken: “The GOP’s unprecedented anti-Obama obstructionism was a remarkable success. And then it handed the party to Donald Trump.”
This article also explained that opposing national unity and fostering dysfunction had long been McConnell’s strategy for rebuilding the Republican Party from its landslide defeat in 2008: “Republican leaders simply did not want their fingerprints on the Obama agenda; as McConnell explained, if Americans thought D.C. politicians were working together, they would credit the president, and if they thought D.C. seemed as ugly and messy as always, they would blame the president.”
And yet these media outlets continue to peddle a fantasy about McConnell being some kind of sincere political leader or an honest broker in public discussions.