A friend of mine recently noted that some Republicans seemed particularly agitated about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s speech in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s acquittal on the single count of impeachment.
If you missed it, Mr. McConnell said he believed Mr. Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the actions of the rioters/protesters/mostly peaceful demonstrators on Jan. 6.
In an interview with Politico that same day, the Kentucky Republican said, with respect to the 2022 campaign: “My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November. Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.”
Mr. Trump’s supporters are not annoyed that Mr. McConnell voted to certify the election. They are not annoyed because he criticized Mr. Trump. They are annoyed because Mr. McConnell can, at times, seem indifferent to whether anything changes in Washington.
They have concluded that many Republicans are also incapable of or unwilling to see the problems, describe them accurately and expand the range of acceptable solutions.
Mr. McConnell’s preference for “electable” candidates, whatever their sentiments, temperament and ability to advocate for solutions, is totemic of this incapacity or unwillingness.
In the recent Georgia runoff elections for Senate, for instance, the Republicans explicitly made the pitch that if elected they would “hold the line.” That is a perfect and embarrassing summation of the problem. Republican voters have grown tired of a Republican Party that simply seeks to hold the line. When the Democrats are in power, they take territory. When the Republicans are in power, they hold the line.
Mr. Trump is an effect, not a cause. He represents a significant chunk of the voting population — somewhere between 40 and 75 million people — who have concluded that Washington, its elites and its processes are not at all interested in their perspectives about what might have gone wrong with the American experiment.
To the extent that Mr. Trump still wields power, it is not because he is a political genius or an idiot-savant or Machiavelli in newer clothes. It is because he actually tried to do something, to take territory, to change the terms of the debate.
Mr. Trump’s power flows in part from those who watch and sometimes participate in the Republican Party and conclude that it is not serious. A Reuters survey that was published right after the impeachment vote indicated that 63% of Republicans believe there should be a third party. A Morning Consult survey released a day later indicated that 59% of self-identified Republicans believe that Mr. Trump should continue to play a major role in the party.
Those two-thirds of the self-identified Republicans who are thinking about a third party are not going to be impressed with arguments about electability.
In 2010, Republican “leaders” in Delaware were prepared to offer up Michael Castle as their Senate nominee. Mr. Castle had never offended anyone mostly because he had never done anything.
The Republican voters had a slightly different idea. Partly as a message to the “leaders,” they nominated Christine O’Donnell in a primary. They knew she was going to be a terrible candidate, that she was going to lose. She had already run and lost twice.
But they didn’t want to reward a clubhouse, it’s-my-turn kind of guy like Mr. Castle, who had never fought for anything. So they took the loss and wound up with Chris Coons. But at least they spared themselves from having to watch Mr. Castle disappoint them for the next six years of their lives.
Was it a good trade? I’m not sure, but the Republican voters in Delaware obviously thought so.
Let’s take a more recent example. Did Republicans “leaders” think of Mr. Trump as electable prior to about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2016? Certainly not.
As I’ve mentioned before, the intramural tussle between Republicans is not going to be settled by pundits or party platforms or people who write columns. It is going to be settled by candidates and voters and elections.
Electability is what the political class preaches when they know the candidate in question has no intention of doing anything once in office. The days when it was enough to have a pulse and not be a Democrat are probably over for Republican candidates. They need to adjust accordingly.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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