Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate

Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence Democrats block two Senate abortion bills VA could lead way for nation on lower drug pricing 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 TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far 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 PelosiOcasio-Cortez: Trump would 'never' say to her face some of the shots he takes at her on Twitter Oversight Committee room to be dedicated to late Rep. Elijah Cummings Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response 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 Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada Trump seeks to boost vulnerable GOP senator with Colorado rally Nonpartisan election forecaster moves Colorado Senate race to 'leans Democratic' 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 Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way 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 Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Trump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick 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 CornynHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates Trump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick 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 GarlandMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate The Trumpification of the federal courts Juan Williams: GOP are hypocrites on impeachment 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 ChaoWatchdog sues for records of Boeing's communications with Trump's Transportation Department The Hill's Morning Report - Report of Bolton tell-all manuscript roils Trump defense Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate 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 PaulTrump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony 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.