Fresh off a primary win in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took a victory lap Thursday where any 30-year Washington veteran would: a beltway think tank.
In front of a friendly audience at the American Enterprise Institute, McConnell was billed as delivering an address laying out a Republican economic platform for the middle class. Instead, he circled like a vulture over the man whose job he covets, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decrying him as worse than “the most tyrannical majority leader ever," Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The most significant idea McConnell presented for boosting the American middle class was to have a Senate that is freer than its current iteration to talk more about ideas. Of course, at some point, there might have to be actual policy ideas to discuss, not just a debate over whether senators are permitted under Senate rules to discuss them.
“I don’t mind saying that Sen. Reid has done tremendous damage to the Senate. ... His propensity to block amendments, even on his own side, has prevented the organic development of policy,” McConnell said. “He has muzzled the people’s representatives, and through them, the people themselves. ... I don't need to tell any of you what he has done to the spirit of comity and respect that the public has every right to expect from their leaders.”
“There’s not a chance we will turn around and do the same thing,” McConnell then vowed.
McConnell has been lambasting Reid for months over what the Republican views as the corrosion of the Senate and its procedures. In November, the Democratic majority leader decided to amend the Senate rules and remove filibuster requirements for certain executive branch and judicial nominees. McConnell, however, would not say whether he would reverse the rules change he decries if he were to become leader.
But the larger political issue at hand is whether there’s an audience for such an insider message outside of the think-tank crowd. It’s unclear to what extent people in Kentucky or other states where the GOP is trying to make inroads care or understand the implications of such a procedural fight.
For a party that has focused most of its messaging against President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders — and laws they’ve passed since taking over the Senate and White House — Republicans might need to come up with specific policy solutions that appeal to their coveted middle class demographic.
In a question-and-answer period following his address, McConnell was asked about the chances that the Senate will approve a package of extensions for expired tax breaks.
“I hope you’re not bored with the discussion of process,” the Republican leader said, before launching into an answer about the ability to offer amendments.
Perhaps that’s not McConnell’s most compelling campaign slogan. But for now, playing the insider is all part of the strategy.