This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on February 27, 2021.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is grappling with aftermath of a Devil’s Bargain with Trump. On January 6, his prior willingness to humor Trump’s election lies landed him in mortal danger. But for the foreseeable future, telling the truth about Trump could kill his political career.
Like every Devil’s Bargain, this one isn’t going well for McConnell. He’s trapped between the truth and its consequences, and it shows in his wildly contradictory actions.
First, He Blurred the Truth
Nov. 9, 2020: After every major news organization declares President-elect Joe Biden the winner of the election, McConnell goes to the Senate floor and refuses to acknowledge Trump’s defeat, saying, “This process will reach its resolution.”
But weeks of Republican unwillingness to recognize Biden’s win include a “process” that fractures the GOP and allows Trump to engage and enrage his supporters.
Then He Tried to Blunt the Consequences
Dec. 15, 2020: Following Vladimir Putin’s lead the same day, McConnell finally admits publicly that Biden won the election.
But it’s too late. Trump is actively promoting his “Save America – Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC, pressuring state election officials to reverse his popular vote losses in key swing states, and urging Vice President Mike Pence to throw out certain Electoral College results during the joint session of Congress that will certify Biden’s win on January 6.
Jan. 6, 2021: Moments before Trump’s mob attacks the US Capitol, McConnell tells the Senate that he will vote to certify Biden’s win, saying, “We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. We’ll either hasten down a poisonous path where only the winners of an election actually accept the results or show we can still muster the patriotic courage that our forebears showed, not only in victory, but in defeat.”
Less than an hour after his Senate speech, McConnell hides in a barricaded room as members of Congress and their aides plead for outside help. McConnell’s senior adviser reaches a former law firm colleague, Will Levi, who had served as Attorney General William Barr’s chief of staff. From his home, Levi then calls FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich at the command center in the FBI’s Washington field office. Bowdich dispatches the first of three tactical teams to the Capitol.
But the Truth Became Unavoidable
Jan. 13: Reacting to the House article of impeachment, McConnell says he’s open to convicting Trump for inciting the insurrection. But he also states that the Senate trial will not begin before Trump leaves office.
Jan. 19: McConnell takes the Senate floor and says, “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like.”
Then He Tried to Blunt the Consequences, Again
Jan. 26: McConnell votes in favor of a motion that would have declared the impeachment trial unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office – a scenario that McConnell himself has orchestrated. The motion fails.
Then He Found the Truth, Again
Feb. 13: After voting to acquit, McConnell delivers a blistering condemnation of Trump and his mob on the Senate floor, saying, “They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he had lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceded the riot were a disgraceful – disgraceful dereliction of duty…
“A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flag and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. He was the only one who could… He did not do his job…
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, unless the statute of limitations has run… He didn’t get away with anything yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation.”
And Then He Abandoned the Consequences Altogether
Feb. 16: Trump responds to McConnell’s speech with a lengthy personal attack: “The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm… Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again.”
Feb. 25: A Fox News reporter asks McConnell whether he would support Trump if he wins the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. “Absolutely,” McConnell responds.
During the insurrection, McConnell feared mortal danger from Trump’s mob. Now he fears political death at the hands of Trump and the same mob. Such is the fate of every elected official in what was once the Republican party.
They must keep feeding the beast or it will eat them.