Mitch McConnell Will Crush Trump's Fantasies Once Again
Trump's penny-pinching ways send GOP Senate candidates scrambling for Mitch
This is pretty astounding, but are we really surprised after all these years at the permanent inevitability of Mitch?
Just a few months ago, Blake Masters was strongly criticizing Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, expressing hopes, as other conservative candidates have this cycle, that he would receive a viable challenge to his Senate leadership after November. But on Friday, Masters was sounding a different tune, outright hoping that McConnell would back his campaign in the Arizona Senate race as the Senate leader has for J.D. Vance in Ohio.
“I’ll tell Mitch this to his face,” Masters said during a GOP primary debate in June. “He’s not bad at everything. He’s good at judges. He’s good at blocking Democrats. You know what he’s not good at? Legislating.”
On Friday, Masters predicted McConnell will get another term as GOP leader and no Republicans will challenge him.
“I think he’ll be in charge. And I’m not just going to be a senator that falls in line to whatever he says,” Masters told construction company officials. “I’ll hear him out. I’m happy to listen. But my vote doesn’t belong to Mitch McConnell. It doesn’t belong to Donald Trump.”
Masters’ experience is unique in this election cycle. It’s a dynamic conservatives have seen before: candidates go from harsh McConnell critics in their primaries, appealing to grassroots voters infuriated by McConnell’s establishment ways, to sounding more amenable tones after winning their nominations.
There had been some hope in conservative circles that by shifting multiple seats away from long-time McConnell loyalists and banking on the open hatred Donald Trump has for the longtime leader, 2022 could be the beginning of the end for Mitch. But at this stage, even if Republicans see an influx of new blood, the need for money to get there outweighs the price of eating crow.
Of course, the unspoken reality is that behind Masters’ request and the Vance expenditures is Trump’s own decision to sit on his pile of gold instead of spending on the Senate candidates he’s endorsed. His Save America Super PAC could be the alternative funding source these candidates need. But even sitting on a massive war chest and reaping the financial benefits of outrage over the Mar-a-Lago FBI raid, they’ve spent little cash on actually backing candidates.
Conservative grassroots donors have been hit hard by a bad economy and inflation, and have to prioritize their giving. Trump’s fundraising dominance — in a cycle where he isn’t even on the ballot — is essentially eating up the small dollar money that would otherwise be available for Senate candidates. This is leading them to be more dependent on McConnell and traditional GOP business supporters than they might have been otherwise.
After Trump’s loss in 2020, his focus on bashing electoral fraud allegations and Governor Brian Kemp in Georgia — whose unsuccessful primary opponent this cycle, David Perdue, is one of the few his PAC has financially backed — did nothing to help McConnell maintain a Republican majority in the pair of expensive runoffs. Since then, Trump has played nicer with traditional GOP interests, taking a “can’t we all just get along” approach shepherded in part by Kevin McCarthy in the House and Rick Scott in the Senate. This has prevented Trump from throwing his backing behind problematic Senate candidates like Missouri’s Eric Grietens.
The problem of these underfunded campaigns represents a key test: how will Trump and his team make the transition to the new establishment of a Republican Party they now effectively run? The answer depends on understanding something basic: unity runs in two directions. A diminutive version of Trump would find it sufficient to destroy candidates he dislikes in primaries with those he prefers. One who wants to lead the Republican Party would understand it only matters if you get them elected.
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The biggest campaign story last week wasn’t Mitch McConnell’s warning that Republicans might not retake the Senate in November. That’s been clear since the party nominated so many candidates whose main advantage was support from Donald Trump. The big story was that those candidates are now calling on Mr. McConnell to come to their rescue.
Exhibit A is Ohio, where the Super Pac allied with Mr. McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund, is committing $28 million to save GOP nominee J.D. Vance. The “Hillbilly Elegy” author won the primary in a divided field after Mr. Trump endorsed him. But Mr. Vance has struggled to raise money from the GOP donor network he disdained as he courted the populist right. That worked in the primary, but it may not be enough to win in November.
Ohio should be a layup for the GOP this year. The Senate seat is currently held by Rob Portman, who is retiring after two terms. The state has been trending right and Mr. Trump carried it by eight points. But Democrat Tim Ryan, a Member of the House, is portraying himself as a moderate despite a liberal voting record and has out-raised the Republican. Thus Mr. Vance’s S.O.S. to Mr. McConnell.
There’s no little irony in this appeal since Mr. Vance criticized Senate GOP leaders as he ran in the primary. In a podcast last September, Mr. Vance said he had “no idea who should be the majority leader of the Senate.”
But he added that “I think that McConnell has clearly shown that he’s sometimes a little out of touch with where the base is. . . . I think that it’s time that we moved beyond the very old leadership class that’s dominated the Republican Party for a long time. And I think, it’s just, we’ve got to do it. We’ve got to bring some new blood in. We’ve got to get people that the base is actually excited about.” Apparently the “very old leadership class” has its uses when the “new blood” needs money.
Blake Masters, another Trump-backed nominee, is also counting on Mr. McConnell to save his campaign. “I think [Mr. McConnell will] come in and spend. Arizona’s gonna be competitive. It’s gonna be a close race, and I hope he does come in,” Mr. Masters told the Associated Press last week. Trailing Sen. Mark Kelly in the polls, Mr. Masters needs the Minority Leader’s help.
During the GOP primary, Mr. Masters called for Mr. McConnell to be replaced as leader. “I’ll tell Mitch this to his face,” Mr. Masters said during a GOP primary debate in June. “He’s not bad at everything. He’s good at judges. He’s good at blocking Democrats. You know what he’s not good at? Legislating.”
These better-call-Mitch appeals are happening at the same time Mr. Trump’s allies are attacking Mr. McConnell for telling the truth last week about GOP Senate prospects this year. The Minority Leader mentioned “candidate quality” as a factor in Senate campaigns, which is also true. Only the willfully blind can look at several of the Trump-endorsed nominees this year and claim they were the strongest candidates in the general election.
Targeting Putin & Xi
pernicious myth has emerged in Western media that the Biden administration and the People’s Republic of China are engaging in constructive cooperation that will enable the administration to achieve its key strategic goal of defeating Vladimir Putin in the war in Ukraine. The potential for upending this diplomatic process is purportedly what so upset the White House over the recent visit of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. While there are reasons to be skeptical about her travel, this isn’t one of them.
The expeditious defeat of Putin is certainly a national-security priority for the United States, though it pales beside the longer-term strategic challenge we face: the rise of an aggressive and hostile China. But these two issues cannot be isolated from each other, if only for the simple reason that China approaches our competition holistically, regardless of America’s desire to work together on space, climate, or anything else. There isn’t real cooperation between the U.S. and the PRC on Ukraine. There won’t be until President Xi Jinping fears he has more to lose than gain from bankrolling Putin’s murderous aggression. This might also give him pause when considering excursions of his own, notably against Taiwan.
Putin largely stunned the civilized world on February 24 when his tanks rolled into Ukraine and the carnage began. Lulled into a false confidence that he would not upset the international order, owing to his need to sell energy to Western Europe, the European Union and the United States had assumed that his saber-rattling was just that, and that he would not invade. Xi, however, was well aware of the plan, having been briefed on it by Putin himself during their meeting on the margins of the Olympics earlier in the month.
Fearing to escalate the conflict, the Biden administration has reluctantly focused on limited economic sanctions, export controls, and military aid. Perhaps surprised by the strong initial response, led by the United Kingdom and the EU, Putin might have been concerned with Russia’s economy in March, but by April it was clear that Biden would not follow up with truly crushing measures. And then Xi stepped in with a further lifeline. While it is true that China is not (openly) transferring drones or the other matériel Putin wants, that is hardly all the Chinese president has to offer. Xi has historically avoided military entanglements and relied instead on China’s growing economic clout to persuade or coerce other nations into compliance with China’s goals.
So while Europe began scrambling for alternatives to Russian energy imports, and the U.S. and U.K. declared an outright ban on them, China started a massive buying spree — at discounted prices — of Russian gas and oil. This diversified its supply during the current global energy crisis, as Russia quickly surpassed Saudi Arabia as the lead exporter of energy to China in May, a position it has now held for three months and counting.
In other words, Xi is bankrolling Putin’s invasion in exchange for cheap energy, an arrangement that suits them both handsomely. The only reason Xi would stop would be if he saw crushing consequences threatening Russia and feared sharing Putin’s fate. Here’s how to do it:
First, focus on the center of gravity of the Russian economy: the banks. Russia is a major exporter of raw commodities, including oil and gas, metals, minerals, and timber. Russian banks, and its central bank, are essential to facilitating cross-border sales of these goods. Moreover, they do this in dollars (or euros), since the ruble is a worthless currency outside of Russia. For that, they have to work with other non-Russian banks. So step one is to sanction all Russian banks, and do so under Executive Order 14024 in a way that places “secondary sanctions” on anyone who keeps transacting with the targeted entity.
President Biden hasn’t allowed his Treasury to do this. Not only are a number of Russian banks not sanctioned, but those that are aren’t covered by secondary measures. In fact, Treasury even undercut its own banking sanctions by issuing a General License (G.L.) that exempts all energy trade with Russia from any sanctions until December. So, step two: Repeal G.L. 8C so that anyone transacting with a Russian bank, whether for oil and gas or Lada cars, can be targeted. The chilling effect on Russia’s economy would be immediate and massive. The solvency of the Russian financial system would be in jeopardy, the ruble would take a nosedive, and the central bank would have to choose between funding Russian genocide in Ukraine and spending its hard currency reserves on saving the collapsing economy.
Finally, deploy the Treasury and State Departments, as well as the National Security Council staff (as we were deployed by President Trump in support of his maximum-pressure campaign against Iran), to carry to China, India, and others the message that time has run out. We will not tolerate continued bankrolling of the Russian war machine. Regardless of the predictable denunciations from Chinese officials, Chinese commercial interests would prevail. Their banks and companies need access to the U.S. financial system and our markets far more than they need cheap, dirty, Russian oil.
Such a plan would have the added benefit of demonstrating to Xi that the U.S. is willing to use hard economic power when circumstances call for it. Of course, what we are proposing with Russia pales by comparison with what would be required to enact a similar policy against China. But both of us had the honor to work for former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, and he included in his famous Rules the Chinese proverb “Sometimes you have to kill a chicken to frighten the monkeys.”
Anthony Fauci has announced that he will leave government in December. Those hoping this means they will soon have seen the last of Dr. Fauci will be disappointed to learn that he is simply leaving to “pursue the next chapter” of his career. He insists that he will “not be retiring in the classic sense.” The ever-modest doctor said that “so long as I’m healthy, which I am, and energetic, which I am, and I’m passionate, which I am, I want to do some things outside the realm of the federal government.”
Items of Interest
“I’d feel kind of like a rat abandoning ship.” “Rats are intelligent mammals,” he answered calmly, almost with amusement. “They will probably outlive us. Their society, at any rate, is a good deal more stable than ours.”
— Michael Houellebecq