Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate

Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation COVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE (R-Ky.) will come out of the Trump impeachment battle a winner. That may be his 2020 high point.

The shrewd Senate Republican leader, working with the White House, has convinced his Republican colleagues that the best politics is to stick together with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE. Even if he has to cave a little on not allowing witnesses — who could either further incriminate or exculpate the president — it'll be largely cosmetic.

But the Kentucky Republican may turn out to be an asset for Democrats in the fall, as already competitive challengers against Republican incumbents are tying those incumbents to the Senate majority leader, not so much on impeachment but rather on his legislative role: rushing through right-wing judges and bottling up popular House-passed legislation, including crackdowns on rising drug prices, boosting the minimum wage, some campaign finance reform and pay equity for women.

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On most of these issues, McConnell doesn't want his half-dozen endangered incumbents to face a vote that big financial interests, always a primary McConnell priority, oppose. Thus, unlike the Republican campaigns against House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (D-Calif.) as a “San Francisco liberal,” the Democratic challengers believe these specifics give them an edge, and they're seizing on it.

In Colorado, the Democrats’ leading candidate, John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill MORE, charges that drug prices are “crushing Colorado families,” references the House-passed bill to hold down those prices and links his opponent, Republican Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March The Democrats' out-party advantage in 2020 The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE, to the Senate leader who's holding up that bill and others.

In Maine, Democrat Sara Gideon assails Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits MORE for going along with McConnell's drive to "jam our nation’s courts with unqualified, anti-choice judges." (The incumbent Maine Republican has opposed a handful of the 187 Trump-appointed judges who have been confirmed.)

Iowa's Theresa Greenfield, citing her opponent, charges that "Joni Ernst and Mitch McConnell will stop at nothing" to defund Planned Parenthood.

These challenger strategies calculate that it works to link their opponents to McConnell, who has poor poll ratings and comes across as the Grim Reaper, an image he’s actually embraced.

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In Texas, Democrat MJ Hegar even Tweeted a video of her opponent, No. 2 Senate Republican John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Castro, Warren, Harris to speak at Texas Democratic virtual convention Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight MORE, showing he's “always running after Mitch McConnell ... so I'm running against John Cornyn.” (Never mind that deputies usually trail after the leader.)

McConnell's allies have said this is just typical political pablum and doesn't faze the majority leader, as his focus is on running the Senate and keeping the majority, currently 53 to 47.

McConnell is adept at keeping this slim majority in line, blocking legislation and confirming judges now that doing so requires only a simple majority.

He's not much interested in major legislation, and it's a myth that he's a Senate institutionalist in the same vein as his predecessors Mike Mansfield, Howard Baker, George Mitchell and Bob Dole, partisans who appreciated comity in the Senate and respect for fair protocol.

Despite spending half his life in the Senate — 35 years as a senator and several as an aide — he's into power even at the expense of the institution. An illustration is when he refused to even allow a vote on former President Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominee Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandDon't mess with the Supreme Court Graham on potential Supreme Court vacancy: 'This would be a different circumstance' than Merrick Garland Prosecutor who resigned over Stone sentencing memo joins DC attorney general's office MORE, claiming — falsely — that it was tradition not to confirm high court nominees in a presidential election year.

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McConnell has made clear — now that a Republican is in the White House — that if a vacancy on the high court occurs this year, he'll try to push through any nomination.

The one slam that infuriated the 77-year-old Senate leader was Democrats calling him “Moscow Mitch” for holding up election security measures to guard against a repeat of Russian interference in the next election. Claiming he was a victim of “McCarthyism” smears, he capitulated and supported legislation.

There also are allegations of ethical transgressions involving his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoBottom line Democrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump orders cuts in regulations that 'inhibit economic recovery' | Green group calls for Energy secretary to step down over 'redlining' comment | Daily carbon emissions drop 17 percent MORE, showing favoritism to her husband's supporters in Kentucky.

That one doesn't bother him so much, as his political calling card at home is using his power and connections for Kentucky.

That is even more necessary for him than most legislators, as he is not well liked at home after all these years. A reliable Democratic poll last year gave him a 57 percent to 31 percent negative rating, considerably worse than his junior Republican colleague, Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Tim Kaine tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies Trump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers MORE.

Some Democrats hope that Amy McGrath, a well-financed former Marine fighter pilot, might upset the lifetime politician. But no one runs tougher or meaner campaigns than Mitch McConnell; don't be surprised if at some stage, the Marine fighter's patriotism is questioned. Donald Trump, with whom McConnell shares a political marriage totally of convenience, carried the Bluegrass State by 30 points last time and will provide tailwinds this November.

But it won't be a happy election evening for McConnell if he wins Kentucky but provides enough tailwinds for Democratic challengers elsewhere that he loses the majority — and his power as leader — in the Senate.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.