Mitch McConnell’s math depends on Republican voters staying home

Many in the Republican conservative base have good reasons for disliking Senator McConnell. However, he is the leader of the Senate Republicans, making him the highest-ranking Republican in office. Republicans with more political power and a larger base are currently on the outside looking in. That can change. I would never pretend to know what is going on in my senior senator’s head, but I have observed him since the Reagan administration, so I know how he operates.

Kentuckians are faulted for electing Mitch over and over. There is a reason we elect him. It is part of the Mitch McConnell political math. McConnell faces two election threats: the primary and general elections. He firmly controls the local Republican political machine. They love him because Mitch is a winner and these people like winning. It is almost impossible to mount a state-wide primary fight with someone outside of the local political system, and no one within the system would dare challenge Mitch. He wins his primary handily.

It is a bit harder in the general election, but Kentucky Democrats generally pull their punches in challenging Mitch. Even Democrats know that McConnell sends a lot of federal dollars our way. Kentucky is a conservative state despite our Democrat governor, and they find it easy to tolerate Senator McConnell. Getting elected to the Senate is a game of numbers, with Mitch flawlessly playing both sides.

Image: Mitch McConnell (edited). YouTube screen grab.

Kentucky does not elect him as the Republican leader of the Senate. That is on the senators who vote for him as leader, many of whom are your senators. That is where Mitch McConnell’s Senate math becomes important. There are three specific aspects of this.

Both McConnell and Schumer have maximum political power when the balance of Senate power is very close. While the vestiges of the filibuster remain, this is where leadership can move or stop legislation. The reconciliation process can be used to move spending bills with simple majorities, but it is still a somewhat limited process. With a 50/50 Senate, all the power rests in the party leaders.

McConnell’s power lies with his ability to move the votes of squishy Republicans around to make deals. This is only possible when the Senate is very close or tied.

The Democrats also play this game, but Democrats have few problems with squishy Democrats. There are only two Democrat senators who will temporarily defy Schumer, a defiance that almost always caves. Conservative Republicans who would like to defy McConnell exceed the Democrats that Schumer must corral. McConnell controls defiance by using the closely divided Senate against them. The conservatives may not like McConnell, but they like the Democrats less, and the even split allows McConnell to control how they vote.

The magic number for the math is (R/2)+1, in which R is the number of Republican senators. With 50 Republican senators, this magic number is 26. It is the number of senators needed to remove McConnell from leadership. Mitch must prevent his personal opposition from reaching this number. For this, he uses his control of Senate campaign cash.

This money is used both to support preferred primary candidates and in the general election. When people who are not McConnell supporters win a primary, McConnell’s surrogates will often oppose them and help the Democrats win, even if they must do it secretly. A candidate who runs against Mitch must beat him twice. Mitch would rather have a Democrat win than risk another senator who would vote against him as majority leader. Provided he is not completely out of power, he does not mind if some Republicans lose.

There are current Senate candidates who won primaries because they had support from President Trump and not establishment Republicans like McConnell. Expect McConnell to oppose some of them even if it might mean that some Democrats are elected. He needs to control his support within the caucus.

The money spent on Republican campaigns for the Senate is McConnell’s insurance policy to remain in power. If you wonder why previously conservative senators go wobbly, this is it. Oppose McConnell and end up with a primary opponent whom Mitch supports. In conservative states, the risk of a Republican loss is low, and Mitch can still increase his Senate support.

Mitch McConnell Math is an almost evenly matched Senate, limiting the number of senators that might oppose McConnell, and control of campaign money.

We can beat the McConnell math. We must send as many Republicans as possible to the Senate. There is a disturbing trend that I see in comments. Some conservatives say that, because all Republicans are bad, it’s a waste of time to vote, and that we might as well just stay home. Mitch McConnell wants exactly that. The way to take power from McConnell is to elect enough Republican senators so that McConnell cannot control the caucus. We need more Republican senators for that to happen.

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