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Op-Ed – Bill Straub: McConnell will celebrate 39th anniversary in Senate and should consider his legacy

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, at 81, will celebrate his 39th anniversary as a member of the Senate come January.

Ultimately, history is unlikely to treat his tenure well, but there is one, simple step the Louisville lawmaker can take to save and enhance his tattered reputation.

McConnell’s sins over almost four decades are too numerous to list. He packed the Supreme Court with justices who eagerly repealed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, one of the few times in its long history that the court revoked what had been a human right. He obstructed a significant portion of President Barak Obama’s agenda through an unprecedented use of the fillibuster, not so much because of Obama’s policy goals but because of some inexplicable, personal animus. He championed a Wild West version of campaign finance, opposing any and all reforms, thus auctioning off the federal government to the highest bidder.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

All of this, and more, firmly establishes Addison Mitchell McConnell, at least to this point, as a political hack of the first order – a small man in a big job. To be fair, he compensated for his abysmal record, somewhat, by championing Israel and, particularly, Ukraine, in their time of need. McConnell has, in fact, displayed a steady hand in foreign affairs over the years, although he bizarrely blamed President Biden for failing to provide sufficient assistance for Ukraine while it’s his own Republican Party that is getting cold feet over future support.

Regardless, McConnell may have a way out, an opportunity to claim the mantle of statesman in what may be his final years in the upper chamber. It calls on him to do what’s right rather than what’s political, requiring him to follow a counter-intuitive path that will cross, at least to some extent, the political party he has embraced for decades.

McConnell needs to publicly denounce former President Donald J. Trump for the creep he is, back an alternative candidate – any candidate – in the GOP presidential primary and assert he will write-in the name of a more acceptable GOP loyalist on the November 2024 ballot if Trump is the nominee.

This presents McConnell, with, perhaps, his last opportunity to save his political soul. The odds of him actually implementing this course of action are not great, almost zero, in fact. He has publicly stated he will “absolutely” support Trump if he’s the party’s nominee and expressed surprise that folks were shocked when he announced that intent.

But, as the second-highest ranking elected Republican official in the federal government behind only House Speaker Mike Johnson, of Louisiana, who is new on the job and in the tank for the Stalinist Trump, McConnell has to condemn the raging tyrant for the sake of the nation. It’s a step that could help lead other Republicans out of what has become the Trump party.

It’s no secret that the two men are not exactly kissing cousins. They maintained a testy relationship while Trump was in the White House and McConnell served, as he continues to do today, as Senate Republican floor leader. The relationship blew up completely in wake of the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection at the Capitol when McConnell said Trump should be held personally responsible for the revolt.

McConnell, for purely political reasons, refused to support articles of impeachment, which would have prohibited Trump from once again running for office. Regardless, since then, Trump hasn’t missed an opportunity to insult both McConnell – characterizing him as “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” — and his wife, Elaine Chao, who served as Trump’s transportation secretary, who he, for some sick reason, refers to as CoCo.

So, the stage is set and we’ve reached a point where it is no longer a game – political or otherwise. Trump faces four criminal indictments in both state and federal courts, on 91 counts, including illegally maintain government documents after he left office, spreading them all over his estate, Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, and for his involvement in the Jan. 6 riot.

But he is still, by far, leading the field in the GOP primary race. And some new polls are showing him pulling ahead of President Biden, seeking re-election and the presumptive Democratic nominee.

What’s more Trump is campaigning as an unrepentant despot, a danger to democracy as we know it, one who intends to rule as an authoritarian .

“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Trump said in a recent speech. “They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”

Trump has publicly acknowledged that he will consider “weaponizing” the federal government against his enemies if elected and demand that the Justice Department indict members of the Biden family, apparently in response to the indictments that have been issued against him.

Reports, primarily from The New York Times, indicate Trump will not treat the Justice Department as an independent arm of the government and will likely order it to round up millions of undocumented immigrants – including, perhaps, the Dreamers who arrived at a young age and know no other home – and place them in sprawling detention camps, similar, one supposes, to the internment camps that housed Japanese-Americans during WWII.

And Trump allies are already screening thousands of like-minded potential candidates for government jobs, a move that will further his intention to fire non-partisan federal workers and replace them with loyalists.

In short, as noted in a recent article in Salon, citing his own statements and the plans of those guiding the direction of his potential administration, Trump is looking at imposing martial law to quell any protests against him, imprisoning the MAGA movement’s “enemies”, instituting the mass deportation of “illegal aliens,” essentially ending the rule of law, gutting the First Amendment, and turning his back on the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups.

It is the blossoming of an ugly, un-American era. McConnell, who is not stupid, certainly realizes this. Yet, to this point, he remains silent, refusing to even discuss Trump when given the opportunity.

At some point, McConnell has to remember his allegiance is to the United States, not the Republican Party. His failure to speak up could place the American experiment in jeopardy.

Mitch McConnell fancies himself a leader. Well, it’s time to lead.

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