How to defeat Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the second-evilest man in town—Donald Trump’s main enabler? The cause gained even more urgency Tuesday when McConnell denied that Trump was a racist despite clear evidence such as his bigoted smears against four nonwhite Congress members.
Here’s my suggestion. Democrats should out-McConnell the Senate majority leader at the gut level in a way highly customized for Kentucky. Amy McGrath, the ex-fighter pilot who has just begun her campaign against him, should hit still harder than she is now. She should start with a good counter-slogan. McConnell’s people already have unveiled a YouTube saying, “Amy McGrath: Too Liberal for Kentucky.” Democrats should fire back with: “Mitch the Snake: Too Crooked for Kentucky.” Merely portraying McConnell as an enemy of progress isn’t enough. Draw the voters in with vivid—and accurate—language.
In highly visual TV commercials and campaign rhetoric, Democrats should exploit to the max the image of McConnell as a creature in the Washington swamp. Be as corny as needed. Just strive for results.
Do not call Mitch McConnell a “Turtle Man” based on the famous weak chin. He can’t help the chin. But McConnell can help the trickiness, manipulation and other negatives that have made him loathed even by many Republicans in Kentucky—despite Donald’s Trump’s popularity there. “Snake,” thus, fits, especially if the Democrats show a cartoonish Mitch Snake slithering around in a swamp and covered with slime. We can even hear him hiss. One or more of the Democrats’ many Hollywood friends could help make the Mitch Snake a masterpiece.
Yes, snakes at times can aid farmers and others, such as by killing mice and other rodents eating crops. I’ll not brook cruelty to snakes in real life. But our Mitch Snake can be a menacing, venomous killer. He can be treacherous, too. Bible-toting Kentuckians know which creature tempted Eve with an apple: a serpent. The sobriquet of “snake,” in McConnell’s case, even carries the Donald Trump seal of approach in a sense. Consider Trump’s warm reaction to McConnell’s harsh treatment of a fellow participant in the great healthcare debate, a Democratic senator the President said he liked.
“This guy’s mean as a snake,” Trump said of McConnell’s hopes of crushing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin “like a grape” in the 2018 election. “I like it, though, Mitch,” the President said, according to a former presidential aide’s book. Then Trump patted McConnell on the back—twice.
Now, just what to mention in the commercials? As McGrath realizes, she’ll lose with a direct attack on McConnell for speaking out against impeachment. Never mind that Trump is a bigoted crook, sexual predator and aspiring dictator. To many voters in states like Kentucky, it just does not matter that Trump isn’t Mr. Rogers. For better or worse, Trump enjoys a high popularity rating in Kentucky even if it isn’t at its peak.
But without taking on Trump directly, McGrath can home in on the bugs that do count—in ways that focus on McConnell’s serpent-level treachery in the context of the well-being of the average Kentuckian.
Taxation of the wealthy and the corporations in which they own stock: Tell what the super-rich have done with the tax breaks that McConnell helped push through Congress (after having uttered the usual platitudes in favor of lowering the national debt). The money hasn’t gone toward job creation to the extent promised–the rich have lived it up through stock buybacks and in other ways. Go graphic with pictures of the Koch brothers and of billionaires’ yachts. Taxes, healthcare and Social Security should be the main show in the Democrats’ campaign against the snake. Amy McGrath has already gone after McConnell on those issues and others, but still could step up her attacks by way of the snake commercials. Remember, Kentucky is an affordable media state, just right for experiments of the kind proposed here.
Healthcare: Point out that when all is said and done, McConnell and most other Republicans don’t want good, comprehensive coverage despite all the misleading rationalizations to the contrary. As is usual, the Mitch Snake is the leading obstructionist. Say it in the most visual way! Show sick Kentuckians—oxygen masks, crutches, the whole works—begging for the Snake to care. The money would be there with appropriate taxation of the rich.
Social Security: Again and again, the 79-year-old Mitch Snake has been gunning for it. Actually we should be increasing, not decreasing benefits–through means ranging from heavier taxation of the rich to higher contributions that the well-off make to Social Security. But the Mitch Snake hisses out all kinds of misleading excuses against this. Put a cash-strapped Social Security pensioner on camera, someone likable who worked her rear end off before retirement and tell of her on-going struggles. Social Security, like it or not, is a major source of retirement money for countless Americans, especially in poor states like Kentucky. Remember, Social Security is not a handout—recipients have paid for it
The pension crisis and the Mitch Snake’s related nepotism: Joining President Trump in showing contempt for the American worker, the McConnell-led Senate confirmed the starkly underqualified Gordon Hartogensis as head of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. A major pension crisis could devastate the retirements of tens of millions of working people, and Hartogensis lacked and lacks the government and management experience to deal with the ongoing crisis. He is simply a lucky startup millionaire who retired at age 29. But who cares? Hartogensis’s brother-in-law is Mitch McConnell. Let’s see TV commercials with his name: make voters care. Who comes first? The Snake’s family or workers with pensions?
Energy: McConnell says that coal must be “part of our country’s energy future.” Huh? Despite global warming? And even though the coal industry is contracting? The long-term numbers don’t lie. Only McConnell does–in suggesting that there’s hope here. McGrath should tell where the real possibilities are, in alternative technologies such as solar.
Health-related environmental issues: Needless to say, the Snake opposes strong environmental regulations. Get Kentuckians on camera who are dying of pollution-related diseases. Talk about the Snake’s campaign contributions from polluters. Tell the voters how hazardous the Snake is to their health.
The Mitch Snake’s contribution to government gridlock and the decline of the legislative branch: McConnell is so much of an obstructionist that of the 127-plus most recent Senate votes, just 21 related to legislation. The Mitch Snake focused the Senate instead on rubber-stamping the Trump Administration’s appointments. Forget about meaningful legislation to deal with trifles like the heathcare crisis or Russian cyber attacks. In the words of U.S. Senator Tina Smith, the Mitch Snake has “transformed the Senate into little more than the Trump administration’s personnel office, the place where good ideas go to die.” Impeachment, as I see it, would be at the top of the list of good but Mitch-doomed ideas. Alas, Mitch sees the Republican party as his employer and Donald Trump as a CEO to be protected—especially given Trump’s appointments of the Snake’s relatives. Not just Hartogensis. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, is secretary of transportation.
Nationally, Democrats love to play up other issues, important ones, such as abortion and equal pay for women and LGBTQ rights, and in fact, fund-raisers should press these buttons in countrywide fund-raising campaigns against the Snake. But in a conservative rural state, such arguments won’t take the McGrath campaign very far and might even hurt it.
What will work in a rough-and-tumble place like right-leaning Kentucky can be learned from the late Roger Ailes, the satanic media genius who created Fox TV and helped more than a few troglodytic politicians with his brilliance as a political consultant. I abhor the distortions and other sleaze that Ailes made a hallmark, but he was right on target with his punch-to-the-gut approach. I’d rather this not be true. But Kentucky is Kentucky, not gentler, more progressive Vermont or Minnesota. McGrath needs to learn from Ailes’s effort on behalf of an ambitious young politician to defeat a veteran senator.
“Do you want to look nice, or do you want to win this thing?” Ailes said in urging the pol to go negative.
The client listened to Ailes. He signed off on commercials that did not simply tell how the incumbent was missing Senate votes to make remunerative speaking engagements. Instead the commercials showed humans and dogs hunting for the AWOL Senator. The Ailes client benefitting from this visceral, cartoonish approach was none other than Mitch McConnell, and the commercials were a major reason why he reached the Senate.
If McGrath wants to fend off potential Democratic primary opponents like Kentucky Sports Radio owner Matt Jones, she needs to go after McConnell to the fullest—in line with Ailes’s advice to “win this thing.” She should demonstrate what she’ll do in the general election. McGrath should play fair and stick to the facts in context, but a negative campaign, please, without the least shyness about name-calling, especially when so many people already despise the Snake. Nice, ethical opponents deserve respect, but neither adjective fits McConnell.
In some ways, the Snake is even more evil than Trump, who, despite his carnival-barking talents, so often comes across as a half-sentient mix of man and beast. The senator earned a B.A. in political science and later a law degree, so he should know how much damage he is doing to the American system through his protection of Trump against impeachment. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, once Trump’s main enabler, is gone. McConnell remains. Now’s the time to defang the Mitch Snake by giving him a dose of his own medicine.