It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it
© Greg Nash

It’s now official: with the successful confirmation of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE to the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions What if 2020 election is disputed? Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval MORE (R-Ky.) has become the most consequential political figure of this decade. He has reached total cult hero status among conservatives. Moreover, his conference has never respected him more, and his president has never trusted him more. McConnell is the man, and everyone knows it.

One might not guess that by the media coverage. After all, it is President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE who most often dominates the headlines, thanks to the bully pulpit which the White House (and his significant Twitter following) afford him. However, upon considering what Republicans have managed to accomplish in the three-plus years that McConnell has been majority leader, it is difficult to imagine how any of it would have happened without him.


Let’s first go back to early 2016, just after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. When President Obama moved to nominate Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian Garland2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Merrick Garland, denied Supreme Court spot, on court set to consider Trump subpoena appeal  Warren calls for Congress to pass federal laws protecting Roe v. Wade MORE to fill Scalia’s seat, McConnell immediately grasped the importance of the moment, announcing that the Senate would not consider any nominee until after the November elections. Although it may not seem so in retrospect, at the time, this was a significant gamble. Pundits on both the left and right believed holding open Scalia’s seat would likely benefit the Democrats politically, with some conservatives even calling on McConnell to confirm Garland lest a more progressive-leaning alternative be nominated down the road.

Instead, McConnell’s maneuver became one of the biggest political assets for Republicans in the 2016 elections. Exit polls showed that among the many voters for whom the Supreme Court was the most important issue, Trump outperformed Clinton by double digit margins. Although Trump certainly did his part to capitalize on the issue by releasing his list of candidates from which he would choose a nominee if elected, it was McConnell’s unwavering Senate leadership which made the strategy possible. And as we now know, his gamble paid off -- big time.

That move alone cemented McConnell’s legacy among conservatives. However, in the time since the 2016 election, McConnell’s leadership has been arguably just as impressive, if not more so, in ensuring that President Trump and Republicans were able to make good on their campaign promises. Often overlooked, for example, is the Senate’s 2017 vote to abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, a move which enabled the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch – and later Kavanaugh – to the Court. While hindsight, again, makes the outcome seem obvious, it was actually an incredible feat for McConnell to unite the GOP conference, a number of whom had previously been strong proponents of the filibuster.

And then came the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the nomination of now-Justice Kavanaugh. While Democrats were always likely to make the confirmation of Kennedy’s replacement difficult, their politicization of sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh turned his confirmation into an especially complicated process, requiring both delicate tact and strong resolve. But over the course of that process, McConnell displayed both, going to the Senate floor day after day to answer the charges against Kavanaugh and assure the Senate there would still be a vote, thus holding together his weakening conference and ultimately achieving Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Thanks in large part to Mitch McConnell, conservatives now have a constitutionalist majority on the Supreme Court, a growing number of constitutionalist judges on the lower federal courts, and some significant legislative accomplishments, including last year’s passage of tax reform. And although the Senate majority leader’s role in all this may be undervalued, it should not – and will not – be forgotten. Conservatives owe him a debt of gratitude.

Frank Cannon is the president of American Principles Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @frankcannonAPP.