Under persistent questioning, the Senate bigwig flails around for an explanation for his blatant hypocrisy.
In terms of sheer legislative influence, there are few — if any — characters in the recent history of American politics with more impact than Mitch McConnell. Throughout his career, the Kentucky Republican has alternately set, controlled, constrained, and derailed the congressional agenda with a degree of mastery unseen since the days of Lyndon Johnson. That he is ruthless and unscrupulous and utterly impossible to shame makes him the most potent force for conservative legislation in a generation. Except, don’t you dare actually ask him about that. Oh no no no, don’t do that.
Jonathan Swan, the sort of access-journalist whose instances of holding politicians accountable are often the unintended byproduct of his broader commitment to simply existing in proximity to those in power, made a rare show of actually unsettling McConnell in an interview with the Senate minority leader during an Axios “NewsShapers” event on Thursday. There, a conspicuously flustered McConnell sputtered and deflected when asked about his “moral red lines” in regards to his infamously cutthroat style of politics.
“I’m very comfortable with my moral red line,” the ordinarily unflappable McConnell insisted, as Swan pressed the senator on his obvious hypocrisy in denouncing former President Donald Trump in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, then insisting weeks later that if Trump were to become the Republican presidential nominee in the future, he would support him wholeheartedly.
“I’m just actually trying to understand: Is there any threshold for you ... ” a sincerely frustrated-sounding Swan pushed as a clearly annoyed McConnell interrupted, to claim “well, you know, I say many things I’m sure people don’t understand.”
The whole exchange is notable in large part for the degree to which McConnell drops his carefully constructed folksy persona, moment by moment, the more Swan highlights his obvious dissonance. Watch the clip again, and note how McConnell starts his answers with an “aw shucks” anecdote about his wife, transitions to a generic statement about his duty as Republican leader, shifts to deflections about Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (who’s basically been blackballed by the GOP for not licking Trump’s boots), and then shuts down Swan’s line of questioning by simply implying he’s smarter than most people. Clearly, he’s uncomfortable and out of practice when it comes to direct questions he can’t squirm out of.
Ultimately, I suppose, the fact that McConnell won’t — and in all likelihood can’t — define his moral red lines doesn’t make much of a difference. This is a man who is genetically incapable of feeling any sense of embarrassment or shame over his cold-blooded pursuit of an ultra-conservative agenda. He knows he doesn’t really have a moral red line, and he knows that the people who keep him in power don’t care one iota if he does or doesn’t to begin with. Still, it’s good to know that if he can’t be shamed into some sort of consistent set of moral standards, he’ll at least get mad when you say so to his face.