Mellman: Who’s hurting GOP Senate prospects?

Mellman: Who’s hurting GOP Senate prospects?
© Greg Nash

Who do you think is the most unpopular politician in Washington?

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE might be your first guess. After all, the least popular president at this point in his tenure, Trump’s an incredibly divisive figure who voters think is both dishonest and incompetent. It’s a hard combination to beat.


But Trump is not D.C.’s most unpopular politician.

Neither is House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP strategist says Trump could want border wall fight to continue to excite base McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' MORE (D-Calif.). Republicans spent over $65 million attacking her in one cycle alone. But even the paid hostility directed toward her has not been sufficient to give her the top slot in the unpopularity sweepstakes.

There’s an even more unpopular figure in Washington—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' MORE (R-Ky.).

A recent Economist/YouGov poll found 59 percent of registered voters holding unfavorable views of McConnell, while a Quinnipiac poll put his job approval (a different question that provides a different measure) at just 22 percent.

Trump clocked in slightly lower, at 55 percent unfavorable. But 42 percent feel favorably about the president, while a mere 18 percent are favorable toward McConnell.  

In the Quinnipiac poll, McConnell was 14 points lower in approval than Trump, while the Kentucky senator’s disapproval was 6 points higher than Trump’s.

The secret of McConnell’s “success” in this dubious category is being disliked by everyone. It’s no surprise that Democrats find him odious—McConnell’s unfavorables are 50 points higher than his favorables with his natural antagonists.

But independents are 35 points more unfavorable than favorable.

You’d think that Republicans would love their leader. They don’t. More Republicans have an unfavorable view of McConnell than favorable.

When it comes to job approval, McConnell’s position is even more dire. Just 21 percent of independents and only 35 percent of Republicans approve of his performance, while 65 percent and 48 percent disapprove.

There’s no region of the country where the man enjoys any popularity at all.  He’s disliked most in the Midwest, where he is net unfavorable by over 40 points and “least” in the South where his unfavorables are “just” 30 points higher than his favorables.

Rich and poor, old and young, men and women, all disdain the Republican Senate leader.

Ah, you might think, at least they like him in Kentucky.

Not so fast. A poll last month by Western Kentucky University gave him an approval rating of just 30 percent. His local intraparty nemesis, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks MORE, was at 45 percent, 15 points higher, as was Trump.

At a similar time, Morning Consult looked at all 100 senators and gave McConnell a slightly higher 34 percent approval in his home state, but that still made him the nation’s most unpopular senator in their home state.

Being a congressional leader is hard and there is always a political price to be paid. By its nature, the job is highly partisan at a time when voters claim to be sick of partisan battles.

In recent times, no leader of either party on either side of the Capitol has remained popular for long.

But Mitch McConnell is the most unpopular leader the country has. And there is good reason for it. He represents everything that’s wrong with Washington — blind partisanship, rank hypocrisy, blatant obstructionism and total subservience to special interests.

McConnell also presents a practical political problem to Republican Senate candidates. The man is well known and even more widely disliked than Trump. Just how many GOP candidates will want their leader campaigning by their side this fall?

Even more important, every Republican candidate for Senate will be asked whether they will vote for McConnell as leader yet again.

Will they support the most unpopular person in Washington?

P.S. Since this piece was written, McConnell has been the victim of a vile, unethical and racist attack ad. While I obviously hold no brief for McConnell, that ad should be condemned by every decent person. But neither this column, nor the distaste for McConnell it reports, has anything to do with that.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.