Douglas Andrews / February 15, 2022

Whose Side Is GOP Leadership On?

The RNC and Mitch McConnell are at odds about whether to censure or support two runaway Republicans.

At a time when Democrats control both houses of Congress and the presidency, and at a time when that control is marked by resounding incompetence and malfeasance, one would think its leadership would bear the brunt of the public’s dissatisfaction, its anger.

And one would be wrong.

The least popular person in Washington, DC, isn’t our feckless and cognitively declining president, Joe Biden. Nor is it Vice President Kamala Harris, who has the distinction of being the least popular veep in our nation’s history. Nor is it Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Nor is it even House Speaker and longtime lightning rod Nancy Pelosi. No, the least popular person in Washington is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And it’s not even close.

The way to measure this is by looking at the gap between one’s favorability and unfavorability. The larger the gap, the more unpopular the politician. In the RealClearPolitics aggregate, Biden’s favorability spread is -11, the difference between a 41.7 approval rating and a 52.7 disapproval rating. Harris’s number is -14.8, Schumer’s number is -17.8, Pelosi’s number is -19.6, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s number is -18.4, and Mitch McConnell’s number is a stunning -35.

What could explain this? What could explain the fact that only 23% of people view McConnell favorably, while 58% view him unfavorably? Surely it has something to do with the positions he takes. Late last year, for example, McConnell took plenty of heat from the Republican grassroots for bailing the Democrats out of their debt-ceiling debacle. Some of us thought McConnell might’ve made a backroom deal with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, trading McConnell’s approval of a debt-ceiling increase in exchange for Manchin’s critical “no” vote on Biden’s ruinous Build Back Better boondoggle, but that’s pure and perhaps wild speculation; there’s no evidence of any such arrangement.

More recently, McConnell took another deeply unpopular position: He took the Republican National Committee to task for its decision to censure two Trump-hating Republicans, Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Congressman Adam Kinzinger, for their willingness to participate as the Republican Party’s only members on Pelosi’s sham J6 Committee. Also known as “The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol,” Pelosi’s gang is conducting nothing more than a rigged investigation that, by its partisan makeup, is far more interested in politics and prosecution than it is in getting at the whole truth of that day’s events. McConnell also unhelpfully called the January 6 attack “a violent insurrection,” thereby embracing one of Pelosi’s key talking points.

Columnist Mollie Hemingway put it bluntly: “It’s no surprise that the corporate media are defending Liz Cheney in her campaign to help Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hurt Republicans, but why is Mitch McConnell, the leader of Senate Republicans, joining them in their efforts?”

Hemingway continued: “This is not hard. All Republican elected officials should be working for the Republican Party and against Pelosi, not for her. McConnell not questioning the legitimacy of the committee, which has not a single Republican-appointed member, is insane and inexplicable. No reasonable person thinks the January 6 committee is conducting an inquiry but an inquisition.”

Columnist Andy McCarthy sees things differently. He acknowledges that McConnell made a “tactical” error in “echoing the Democrats’ ‘insurrection’ rhetoric,” but he writes: “In a puerile outburst, the RNC had censured Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their service on the House Select January 6 Committee. As a matter of national political significance, that had the effect of framing the party as the pawn of former president Donald Trump, defending his indefensible derelictions of duty before, during, and after the Capitol riot.”

Ah, yes, Donald Trump. As with most issues in Republican politics these days, this one can be traced back to the former president. And, for the record, Trump’s favorability spread is -8.2, which, while nothing to write home about, is better than all the others listed above. Two recent polls, Harris (+3) and Rasmussen (+5), actually have Trump in positive territory. That makes him the most popular — or, more accurately, the least unpopular — political leader in Washington.

If Republican leadership wants to improve its standing with grassroots Republicans, it might start by seeking out common ground with the party’s most popular and influential politician. And the common ground is this: Pick fights with Democrats. Not with each other.

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