By Matthew Monforton
He backed Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio in Florida, Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Trey Grayson over Rand Paul in Kentucky, David Dewhurst over Ted Cruz in Texas and Bob Bennett over Mike Lee in Utah. There are other examples, but you get the idea. When an actual conservative runs in a Senate primary, McConnell backs the opponent.
McConnell always talks a good game, of course, like when he declared the need for Obamacare to be “pulled out root and branch”:
Alas, McConnell was against Obamacare before he was for it. After spending years campaigning, and fundraising, on his “root and branch” promises, McConnell secretly told senators that the proposed reforms of Obamacare’s Medicaid provisions were a mirage. John McCain’s infamous “thumbs down” vote might have formally ended the Obamacare repeal efforts sooner than expected, but McConnell’s earlier backroom dealing and duplicity had already doomed them.
So it was disappointing when Matt Rosendale, the State Auditor for Montana and frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the Senate in 2018, recently declared that McConnell’s status as majority leader was “not in question.” Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but Rosendale was clearly signaling that, if elected, he wouldn’t join any subsequent mutiny against McConnell.
Rosendale should reconsider. For one thing, the Senate will never enact conservative reforms with McConnell as majority leader. Rather, our current Republican congressional leaders are devoted to entrenching Democrat policies, as Brent Bozell explained:
There is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Put them together. They are the swamp. Just as Republicans have the power to enact the agenda they’ve pledged in toto, so too do they now own the federal government, in toto. It’s no longer Obamacare. It’s GOPcare. It’s no longer crazy liberal Democratic spending. It’s crazy liberal Republican spending. It’s no longer socialist Democratic Party taxation, it’s socialist Republican Party taxation. All the legislation authorizing all these programs, all the graft, all the waste, all the obscenity, all the immorality, and where Planned Parenthood is concerned, all the killing — all of it is now formally authored by the Republican Party.
A more practical reason for Rosendale to campaign against McConnell is that it’s good politics. Republican voters despise their congressional leaders. This is particularly true of McConnell, and has been since conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) began exposing his lies:
In responding to Trump’s strategy in recent days of attacking congressional leaders, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) admitted that “the Congress is very unpopular, particularly with the Republican base, so there’s nothing unhinged about it.”
That strategy is paying off for Roy Moore, a conservative challenging Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), a RINO and McConnell sycophant. Moore has made opposition to McConnell a central issue in the campaign and, as of last week, was polling ahead of Strange 51% to 32%, with less than a month to go before Alabama’s runoff election. Even more stunning was the reaction of Republicans when told McConnell had spent millions supporting Strange — 10% said they were more likely to vote for Strange, but a whopping 45% said McConnell’s support made them less likely to vote for Strange.
McConnell’s super PACs are putting up more ads attacking Moore and threatening to blacklist Republican consultants who oppose Strange. But soon the wolves themselves might become prey because, as the Washington Post observes, a Moore victory “would raise the possibility that future Republican Senate candidates would run on an anti-McConnell promise, especially in red-state primary races — putting his leadership in jeopardy.” And a Moore victory is quite possible in no small part because Moore has taken the fight to McConnell.
One Montana candidate has noticed: “Republican candidate Al Olszewski, a state senator, said he would not vote for McConnell to stay on as leader if he’s elected.” The other potential Montana candidates floating trial balloons, Troy Downing, a wealthy California transplant, and Russell Fagg, a Billings judge, are both uninspiring establishmentarians. So even though Olszewski is not as well known or as well funded as Rosendale, he can position himself to hog most of Montana’s populist conservatives, of which there are many, if he hammers home the point that he’s the only Montana candidate opposed to McConnell.
I got to know Rosendale and Olszewski when I served with them during the 2015 session of the Montana Legislature. Al exudes personal warmth, probably the result of a being a physician with years of honing his bedside manner, and has a respectable record, particularly on pro-life issues. But Matt is considered by many to be more conservative. So it’s puzzling that he has given Olszewski an opening to attack him from the right. As McConnell and the rest of the leadership in Congress continues floundering between now and Montana’s primary in June 2018, that opening will only widen unless Rosendale changes course and campaigns against the enemies of reform within the GOP.
Whoever wins the nomination will be up against Sen. Jon Tester, a two-term incumbent. Though well funded, Tester is not invulnerable. Trump carried Montana by over 20 points last year. Tester, whose voting record is comparable to that of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has never gotten above 50%. Montana Republicans and the independents who broke overwhelmingly for Trump last year could oust Tester next year. But with Trump off the ballot, they won’t show up if they think they’re simply replacing Tester with a McConnell waterboy.
McConnell admitted a few weeks ago that Republicans seeking to repeal Obamacare had “come up a little bit short.” So long as McConnell remains majority leader, Senate conservatives will always “come up a little bit short” when attempting to pass any important reform. McConnell will make sure of it.
Voters around Montana and the nation are figuring out that a McConnell-led Senate hasn’t drained the swamp during this congressional session, and won’t during the next session, because McConnell and his super PACS are the swamp — or at least a significant part of it. Rosendale needs to convince Montanans that he gets that— if he wants to win the primary, if he wants to win the general election and, most importantly, if he wants to be worthy of winning.