Why does Kentucky keep electing Mitch McConnell?
There's a complicated reason behind Sen. Mitch McConnell's continued success in Kentucky. It boils down to three things: McConnell controls lots of money; he is willing to destroy any opposition, including Republicans; and the local Republican political machine backs him.
Money is the main source of McConnell's power, and this breaks down into three parts. First, he gets donations from the Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican Party. They use his power in the Senate to further their interests. The Chamber is invested in foreign trade, and foreign trade means mostly China. These donations are used to fund the campaigns of like-minded Republicans for seats in Congress.
Second, he is adept at promoting foreign investments that bring business to the Chamber members who provide products and services. Kentucky is particularly involved in securing foreign investment, and McConnell helps. It started with Japanese investments in the Toyota facility in Georgetown, which showed how large manufacturing facilities can build local businesses. Because American automotive manufacturing is huge in Kentucky, foreign investment is also large. These smaller facilities feed parts to the large assembly plants.
Third, his power in the Senate gives him a special ability to bring good-paying jobs to Kentucky, and the donors contribute to maintain the process. McConnell makes it known that he is the reason this happens in Kentucky and that this will end if he's gone. That's why employees in the factories and supplier businesses support him.
The second part of McConnell's success is that he willingly destroys his political opposition. All candidates daring to run for a powerful political office in Kentucky must get McConnell's approval, or they will experience his wrath.
Theoretically, a nationalist Republican in the Trump mold would do well in Kentucky, but overcoming the piles of McConnell-directed cash is a daunting task. The Kentucky Republican machine does what McConnell says because it wants to win. The machine will not support candidates whom McConnell does not support. Occasionally a good one like Senator Paul gets by, but they are the exception that proves the rule, and candidates outside the McConnell sphere (think Matt Bevin) struggle.
McConnell also controls a lot of money for senatorial campaigns. The advertising that his group runs is brutal and often dishonest. They spend a lot of money to defeat candidates attempting to defeat a McConnell ally in the Republican primary.
The third aspect of McConnell's success is the local Republican machine, although it's also McConnell's Achilles heel because it will abandon him if he stops delivering. The Republican machine has only one goal, winning, and it wants wins throughout the state, from magistrates to governor. These people also want to win Senate and House seats, and McConnell delivers those wins. Because of this success, the machine does what McConnell wants. They back his candidates, and they shun the ones he shuns. In return, McConnell sends a bit of cash their way for local races.
The machine is the most important part of any political organization. It has the people on the ground getting out the vote, passing out yard signs, and getting small donations for local candidates. These people drive voter turnout, and in counties with a strong Republican machine, the candidates win. The machine's drivers are your friends and neighbors on the committees and working phones.
The Republican machine's workers are the backbone of the party, and it is they who are the primary reason that the Republican party should not be abandoned. This infrastructure is critical to winning. It is in place and ready to go. The party can be rebuilt from the bottom.
This is an important time for Kentucky politics. This local Republican base wants victories, and the people therein do not care who delivers the victories. This is why the local base is the weak link in McConnell's stranglehold on Kentucky politics. The people will abandon McConnell if he proves to be weak and other leaders can deliver a winning formula that carries local and state Republicans to victory.
McConnell knows that his ability to get money takes place in national politics dominated by global interests. That interests Kentucky's rank-and-file voters when we get jobs as a result. Show us a national leader who can build employment in the state without bowing to the international business interests, and the local Republican machine will be behind him.
When it comes to the recent public spat between McConnell and Trump, Trump's brand of nationalist politics directly opposes the McConnell internationalist brand. The fight is particularly dangerous for the people McConnell has propped up.
If the Republican base starts to support Trump candidates, then McConnell loses power. The Republican base will support winners, and Trump and his candidates will be winners. McConnell will lose the base, and the whole thing falls apart. Trump is winning this battle for the base, and McConnell knows it.
Image: Mitch McConnell with a bruised hand. YouTube screen grab.