Any reader of this blog realizes how little affection I have for Donald Trump. He’s a racist, a grifter, incompetent, insecure, narcissistic, and a pathological liar. I strongly suspect he is suffering significant cognitive decline. He governs almost entirely by creating division. He has even welcomed interference by Russia in our elections. But as corrupt and disloyal as Trump has been, he could not possibly operate without the complicity of the Republican leadership, who unquestionably know better.
Yes, we have had electoral travesties. These include the corrupt bargain of 1876, which installed Rutherford B. Hayes as President in exchange for the end of Reconstruction (ushering in the Jim Crow era), the election of 2000, where the US Supreme Court decided to halt a recount when there was widespread evidence of voting irregularities and ballot problems, and of course, the election of 2016, the consequences of which we are feeling now. But at least until 2016, most people probably agreed that at the federal level, our leaders supported protection of our elections from foreign interference.
Since January of 2015, Mitch McConnell has been Senate Majority Leader. During that time, he has proven to be both politically skilled and incredibly cynical and ruthless. Starting with the denial of even a vote for Merrick Garland’s appointment to replace Antonin Scalia, he has overseen the growth of an unrelentingly partisan stance among Republicans in the Senate. He has changed rules to install far right-wing judges, many of whom were rated as “unqualified” by the ABA. He has blocked even the consideration of rafts of legislation passed by the House. And he has chosen to remain silent as Trump takes unilateral steps to either make end-runs around laws or to withdraw us from treaties and agreements into which the US has entered. He also has benefited greatly from his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who channeled massive amounts of federal money and contracts to Kentucky to benefit McConnell during his re-election campaign. The result has been a judiciary that is far more conservative than the American public (and willing to rule according to political considerations), a legislative log jam, a wink and a nod to corruption, a breakdown in the rule of law, and erosion of foreign confidence in American willingness to honor its commitments.
But worse than this is McConnell’s unwillingness to allow votes to protect our electoral system to come to the Senate floor. Nor is this new. In 2016, President Obama attempted to warn the country of the information the intelligence community had uncovered about Russian attempts to influence the elections. Obama felt it critical to make a bipartisan statement against this interference, but McConnell blocked that, and threatened to accuse Obama of using this accusation to meddle in the election. As a result, Obama backed down and no warning was issued. It later turned out that McConnell had received millions of dollars in contributions from Russian oligarchs. More recently, in an apparent quid pro quo for McConnell’s role in lifting the Magnitsky sanctions on oligarch Oleg Deripaska, the latter chose to invest in aluminum plant in McConnell’s home state.
Since 2016, Russian (and other) efforts to interfere in our elections has continued unabated. Nevertheless, McConnell has not a let a single election security vote to come to the Senate floor. This is in spite of dire warnings just last month from Robert Mueller about the seriousness of this problem. In fact, since the Mueller hearing, 4 election protection bills have come to the Senate, and none have been considered, much less allowed to come to a vote.
McConnell is fabulously wealthy and has a record of success as Senate leader. Nonetheless, his unwillingness to defend the US electoral system against interference by foreign states is most likely what he will be remembered for. This behavior strongly suggests two things: 1) he is compromised by Russia, and/or 2) he realizes that Republican victories often necessitate such interference. Neither of these positions are acceptable in a Senate leader, and his unwillingness to defend American interests against hostile countries borders on treason.
It is very clear that the American system of governance cannot survive this situation. The Democrats must make it a prime goal to defeat Mitch McConnell and to take back the Senate. Others have suggested, and I am increasingly inclined to agree, that this may be even more important than defeating Trump.
But it will be hard to do that if we cannot even get a vote on election security. It is not enough to do this at the state level, because it will be impossible for individual states to stand up to hacking/interference by entire foreign countries. Democrats have to act now to find ways around McConnell’s ironclad grip on the Senate.
Much as the Republicans have tried to make “the Squad” the face of the Democratic party (despite their fairly limited influence), the Democrats have to make McConnell the face of the Republican party. There is a fair amount of dirt on McConnell out there, not least of which include his connections with Russian oligarchs. He has enjoyed a singular lack of accountability in his career. That has to end. It’s time to fight fire with fire.