McConell the Important?

I know George Will has always had a bit of a soft spot for Mitch McConnell over the latter’s active opposition to McCain-Feingold, but this Washington Post¬† column today is bordering on sycophantic. Glowing personal profile aside though, their was one blurb that stood out to me:

… in Election Day’s second-most important voting, Kentuckians would grant a fifth term to Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans. They did, making him Washington’s most important Republican and second-most consequential elected official. This apotheosis has happened even though he is handicapped by, as National Review rather cruelly says, “an owlish, tight-lipped public demeanor reminiscent of George Will.”

That disability is, however, a strength because it precludes an occupational hazard of senators — presidential ambition. Besides, McConnell, 66, is completely a man of the Senate. At 22, he was an intern for Sen. John Sherman Cooper and went from law school to the staff of Sen. Marlow Cook. Because McConnell has been so thoroughly marinated in the institution’s subtle mores and complex rules, he will wring maximum leverage from probably 43 Republican votes.

Um, alright. “Maximum leverage” from “probably” 43 Republican votes? I’m assuming that this was written before the tide changed in Alaska at it became more “probably” that Begich would be declared the winner, putting the Republican caucus at 42 members, but even then this makes no sense on its own merits. For starters, McConnell should have won. Aside from the fact that party leaders rarely lose re-election bids, Kentucky is a very Republican state. John McCain won the state’s electoral votes by 17%, and the networks called the race at 7:00 EST, when all the polls in the state officially closed. But, by contrast, McConnell won by a mere 6%, garnering just 53% of the vote. In other words, lots of Kentuckians who voted for John McCain turned around and voted for McConnell’s¬†opponent.

All of this makes me wonder exactly how much leverage McConnell is supposed to have over Senate Republicans. It would be one thing, I suppose, if McConnell came from a blue state, and therefore would be expected to face tough re-election campaigns, but he’s not. He’s from astate GOP Presidential candidates win by 17%. He’s a guy who should never face a tough campaign, and yet he nearly lost his seat. Yes he doesn’t have to worry about that for another 6 years now, but it still strikes me that, for at least the next 2 years (or until Senate Republicans have another good cycle), McConnell is going to have a very tough time managing Senate colleagues who have no real reason to worry about crossing their “leader.”

If I were a Senate Republican, I’d be considering whether or not replacing McConnell would bethe most effective course of action, not writing sonnets to him.

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