To Heckle Or Not To Heckle?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Becomes The Latest Member Of The Washington Power Structure To Get Yelled At In A Restaurant
It’s already happened to several key figures in the Trump White House, including Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, Senior Policy Adviser and anti-immigration mastermind Stephen Miller (2X: both at a Mexican and at a Japanese restaurant). And former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who Republicans often leave off the list when they complain about it, probably because they realize that really, who wouldn’t want to yell at Steve Bannon?
McConnell, who represents Kentucky, and his wife, Trump Cabinet member Elaine Chao, were eating at a restaurant in Louisville. The confrontation was very brief, with one person shouting “Why don’t you leave the entire country alone!” at McConnell, and then turning and explaining to a nearby table “he’s going to come for your social security”. Nothing terribly outlandish unless you consider any type of confrontation or invasion of private space to be a horrible affront.
In fact the loudest voice in the video is of somebody recording it on their phone and gleefully exclaiming “I’m going to sell it to TMZ!”, which clearly they did, since the video below was in fact shared on YouTube by TMZ.
So what to make of it? We don’t think there’s anything wrong with complaining to public officials to their faces. Not a damn thing. “Civil disobedience” is central to this country’s composition, and even if it’s sometimes annoying, it’s better than not having it. Also, the people it’s happening to weren’t forced into the jobs they have. McConnell chose to run for office and had the further ambition to maneuver and win his party’s leadership. He’s a big boy.
At the same time, we think even if you’re totally in the right, sometimes you have to ask yourself the question: “am I really helping”? While we respect the person confronting McConnell, and understand that maybe he felt he had to do it, it doesn’t make us want to vote for Democrats any more (or less) than before. At the same time, the President and McConnell (and many others in their party) are working very hard to portray their opposition as a bunch of unruly, dangerous lunatics in order to whip up fear among their constituency to get them out to vote, and this kind of plays right into it. So ultimately, is it worth it? Because there are other ways of expressing yourself and working to get public figures like McConnell out.
We also want to spend a little more time today discussing what McConnell’s been up to, because it’s interesting and also curious.
As the person in the restaurant confronting McConnell pointed out, the Majority leader in the past week or so plainly stated he will push for “reform” (euphemism for “deep cuts”) in things like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits during the next two years. And McConnell blames the ballooning federal deficit on those social programs, not on the $1.5-trillion dollar in tax cuts passed by Republicans and Trump, that mostly went to corporations, were supposed to “pay for themselves”, and so far are spectacularly not. (We reported from the beginning that the tax cuts were a win-win for Republicans, because if they didn’t work out the way they said they would — as they probably wouldn’t — they would just use it as an excuse for cutting social programs, which they wanted to do anyway).
But why would he say these things? Especially someone who’s supposed to be especially politically astute? Especially about programs that are wildly popular across parties? Especially right before a critical election?
Maybe he’s so excited about the prospect that he can’t help himself?
Some media reports are portraying it as a blunder and “campaign gold” for some Democrats, as Politico puts it. And that may be true. But we’re not so sure that on balance it won’t also help inspire some Republicans.
We think McConnell may be speaking to a core of Republicans who have largely been “neglected” this campaign season. Call them McConnell’s base. Which is different than Trump’s. As someone who predated Trump, McConnell speaks to more old-school Republicans, many of whom oppose a lot of what the President is doing: tariffs, immigration, foreign policy based on who tells the best lies, for starters. And they are spooked by huge tax revenue shortfalls at a time when the economy is booming. So while they won’t vote Democrat, they might not be entirely fired up about continuing to enable Trump. In that context, McConnell may see his role as reassuring that Trump is a means to an end. And despite all the chaos, they’ll get what they really want, in terms of deep cuts to social programs, etc.
And don’t underestimate the importance of these peoples’ votes: they will be critically important especially if Republicans want to hang on to both the House and Senate. Since races should be pretty tight in many places, they might make the difference between close and a win. So we think there may be no error here, except in assessing to whom McConnell is addressing his message.
Another thing that leads us to believe this is the case is the majority leader made those comments in interviews with Bloomberg and Reuters, both business oriented news organizations that appeal to Wall Street and high finance types.
McConnell also continues to indulge his obsession for getting Conservative judges seated, something that should please both the Trump and the old-school Republican base. The Senate Judiciary Committee holding hearings for a bunch more last week, even though the Senate wasn’t even in session, and no Democrats and few Republicans attended. What’s going on here is pretty clear: even though polls show Democrats with very little chance of taking control of the Senate, McConnell isn’t taking any chances. And he should know: his decision to hold out on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland even though it didn’t look like Trump would win, ended up handing him a Conservative seat on the Supreme Court in the form of Justice Gorsuch. So he’s setting the wheels in motion now, just in case he has to slam through a bunch of nominees in the “lame duck” session between election day and next January.