McConnell's decision to step down from GOP Senate leadership may allow him to actually lead

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It’s time for Mitch McConnell to finally become a leader.

For so much of his 40 years in the U.S. Senate – more than half of it occupying two of the top positions in Republican leadership – the 82-year-old was anything but what his titles suggested.

He was a follower.

Perhaps the most powerful Republican follower in the Senate – but a follower nonetheless.

So often, he chose not to do what was right but what allowed him to keep his fist tightly clenched around the reins of Senate power.

He took his positions not because of what he believed. He took his positions based on what the Republicans in the Senate who elected him first as whip and then as party leader wanted him to do.

And while he has had a lasting impact on the United States Supreme Court through the partisan gamesmanship at which he excelled, the impact has forever tarnished the court with the same sort of partisanship that has infected other parts of government.

Mitch McConnell refused to do what was right

He took an active role in tarnishing the court; he also took an active role in tarnishing the presidency.

He kept his mouth shut when he should have spoken out about the outrageous conduct of former President Donald Trump. He derailed efforts to convict him of high crimes and misdemeanors twice – going so far as to block testimony before the Senate in the first impeachment and saying he wouldn’t even try to be impartial when determining Trump’s fate.

“I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” McConnell said. “There's not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision.”

President Donald Trump speaks as he stands next Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., after their meeting at the White House, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington. (
President Donald Trump speaks as he stands next Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., after their meeting at the White House, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington. (

He expressed his disgust with Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, in the days after Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s presidential election, but when the House impeached Trump, McConnell blinked.

So often, he refused to do what was right for fear of ostracizing someone whose vote he might need in an upcoming leadership election.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao, his wife, said goodbye at Fancy Farm 2023 on Aug. 5, 2023.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao, his wife, said goodbye at Fancy Farm 2023 on Aug. 5, 2023.

McConnell wouldn’t even defend his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, when Trump launched racist attacks on her, calling her “Coco Chow” or McConnell’s “China-loving wife.”

Now is the chance for McConnell to prove he is Chao’s America-loving husband. (In recent years, there has been ample evidence that McConnell loves the GOP and his own power more than he loves his country.)

Will McConnell endorse Trump? He should stand up to him instead.

Word came out the other day that McConnell and Trump were in discussion – through intermediaries – to secure McConnell’s endorsement of Trump.

Trump, who has not been campaigning as if he’s trying to get the support of moderate voters who are turned off by his policy and style, needs to keep big-name Republicans in his camp.

Time to retire? With McConnell, Biden, US politicians are older than ever. Stop voting for them.

The more big-name Republicans who speak out against him or, at the very least, don’t endorse him, the more trouble he’ll have in November if he is the Republican nominee for president again.

It’s too much to hope that McConnell would endorse anyone other than Trump. Again, he remained silent when Trump went after his wife, and he refused to hold him accountable even after he blamed Trump for the attack on the Capitol.

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This, however, is the chance for McConnell, no longer held captive by MAGA senators, to stand up to Trump and demand something for his fealty and atone for his past sins.

The most pressing thing right now is the vote to fund Ukraine’s resistance to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of that country – one of a handful of issues McConnell is right about.

Ukraine burns. Republicans and Biden dither. And Russia's Vladimir Putin smiles.

An emboldened Putin – especially if American blinks – puts all of Europe at risk and in doing so, puts America’s security at risk. Providing Ukraine with the weapons and ammunition it needs to defend itself potentially allows the United States to stop Putin without harm to American soldiers.

An unchecked Putin would also give permission for China to attack Taiwan.

But the bill to fund Ukraine’s defense is stalled in the House, largely because of a group of Trump-backed MAGA Republicans who seem to support Putin more than they support a Democratic American president.

Joseph Gerth is a columnist at the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Joseph Gerth is a columnist at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

If Trump wants McConnell’s backing, then McConnell should demand that Trump weigh in with the Matt Gaetzes and Lauren Boeberts and Marjorie Taylor Greens of the House and get the Ukraine funding bill passed.

It won’t undo McConnell’s years of failure to provide leadership. But it’s a start.

Joseph Gerth is a metro columnist for the Louisville Courier Journal, where this column first published. Reach him at jgerth@courierjournal.com

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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: McConnell steps down from Senate. Maybe now he'll stand up to Trump