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The Decline and Fall of Mitch McConnell?

When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) froze up the first time, we wrote that the politics of the situation meant he was going to have to give some answers as to what went wrong. He obviously disagreed... until it happened a second time. Now, he and his staff are in full-fledged damage-control mode.

To that end, U.S. Capitol Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan released a letter yesterday. It is addressed to the Senator, and reads:

My examination of you following your August 30, 2023 brief episode included several medical evaluations: brain MRI imaging, EEG study and consultations with several neurologists for a comprehensive neurology assessment. There is no evidence that you have a seizure disorder or that you experienced a stroke, TIA or movement disorder such as Parkinson's disease. There are no changes recommended in treatment protocols as you continue recovery from your March 2023 fall.

In other words: "Nothing to see here!"

Undoubtedly, McConnell hopes and expects this will be the end of it. We're not so sure. The two incidents caught on camera were pretty scary, and we can't be the only ones who are skeptical that this has only happened during the tiny fraction of the time that the Minority Leader happens to be on camera. Further, while we know nothing about Monahan personally, we do know about all the occasions where a physician to high-ranking politicians has offered up a diagnosis that proved to be less than forthright. So, we feel compelled to take his letter with a few grains of salt.

In any event, there's no question that a reckoning has begun among members of the Senate Republican Conference about exactly how much longer it makes sense for McConnell to remain their leader. Some of them are legitimately concerned that he's not physically up to the job anymore. For others, this is merely the entry point for a discussion about how, even if his health was perfect, the Kentuckian doesn't much fit with the current Republican Party.

During the Obama years, which coincided with McConnell's rise to the top of the GOP Senate ranks, the Senator was something of an ideal foil for the President, as far as Republicans were concerned, since his favorite word was "no." That said, the two men did sometimes work together, out of necessity. During the Donald Trump presidency, despite the ostensible partisan alignment, McConnell's relationship with the White House wasn't much better. The current president is probably the one with whom McConnell gets along the best; their partisan differences notwithstanding, they're both old-school, work-behind-the-scenes types who have been friends for decades.

Back in what proved to be his heyday, McConnell was something of a hero to many Republicans, since he got things done—like stealing two seats on the Supreme Court (after the deaths of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Ginsberg). But that's a long time ago in a "what have you done for me lately" town like Washington. He's lost control over much of his conference (see, for example, the Tuberville situation) and, thanks in no small part to attacks from Donald Trump, he's seen as a RINO by the Republican base. The leaders of Congress usually do pretty poorly in approval polls, since they get a lot of the blame for voters' general unhappiness with Congress. But even accounting for that, McConnell's approval numbers are staggeringly bad. In most polls, he is 50+ points underwater. For example, in the latest from The Economist/YouGov, just 14% of respondents approve of him while 66% disapprove, producing a staggering net of -52%.

In Animal House, Dean Wormer advised that "fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." In politics, those things may not be such a problem (see Blutarsky, Sen. John). On the other hand, "out of touch, infirm, and unpopular" is not a good place to be. How much longer can McConnell fight off the sharks that are nipping at his heels? (Z)

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