August 15th, 2020


Leader Hosing: Is Bashing Mitch Pelosi's Best Fundraising Pitch?

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published June 24, 2019

Leader Hosing: Is Bashing Mitch Pelosi's Best Fundraising Pitch?

Melina Mara for The Washington Post
One way to gauge how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi feels about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: check the Speaker's e-mail traffic.

A group that calls itself sent me this missive:

"Trump and Republican leaders are accusing Democrats of not getting anything done. It's certainly ironic, given the only thing Republicans seem interested in making progress on confirming Trump's unqualified and extreme judges and nominees for his administration"

The next day, I received another note from the same group:

"Democrats know how important safeguarding our elections is. That's why one of the first actions we took when we won the Majority was to advance a plan to secure them from future attacks. But right now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to take action."

Also arriving my in-box that morning: this news that former California Sen. Barbara Boxer (she retired in 2016, clearing the way for Kamala Harris) likewise has McConnell in her political cross-hairs: she's asking donors to send in money to oust McConnell in next year's Kentucky Senate race (McConnell, who's nine months older than Joe Biden but five months younger than Bernie Sanders, is finishing a Bidenesque sixth term in the U.S. Senate).

Here's the question (well, two of them):

(a) is McConnell a vulnerable incumbent who can be ousted in 2020?

(b) if you're looking to push a button (which is the purpose of these money pleas), is showcasing the Majority Leader the way to go about it?

Let's start with the state of the Kentucky race.

Yes, McConnell has a primary challenger – former State Rep. C. Wesley Morgan. But don't too put too much stock in Senate primary upsets. During McConnell's three-plus decades in Washington, 471 senators have sought an additional six-year term. Only eight of them went down in a primary – just three in presidential cycles (that would be Richard Lugar (in 2012), Sheila Frahm (Bob Dole's brief replacement in Kansas, in 1996) and Allen Dixon (in 1992).

The general election doesn't offer much hope, either. McConnell's never finished below 52.2% in any of his five re-elect contests. While President Trump's net approval in Kentucky has decreased by 20 points since he took office, he's hardly a Bluegrass pariah with a 56% approval rating.

That takes us to the second question: is McConnell-bashing a smart rallying ploy, or is there a better way to get Democrats to empty their wallets – and turn out to vote?

Two topics come to mind:

Impeachment. Americans overall remain divided over beginning presidential impeachment proceedings, but not so Democrats – this NBC News/Wall Street JournalSurvey showing 48% of them want the fireworks to begin (up from 30% a month ago). 

For Pelosi, is there a simpler message than pointing out a likely scenario of an impeachment article making its way through the Democratic-controlled House, only for McConnell to arrange for an abbreviated Senate trial (why this is a non-starter in the Senate: at least 20 GOP senators would have to flip in order to convict Trump, otherwise he walks as did Bill Clinton in February 1999)?

The obvious problem: Pelosi keeps insisting that impeachment's not going to happen on her watch, so she can't the invite the double-standard.

Supreme Court.

The smarter pitch: Pelosi could educate her would-be donors on the politics of the High Court. McConnell blocked a Supreme Court nomination in 2016. Were there to be a vacancy in 2020, another presidential year, would he do the same to the current White House or push through Trump's third conservative justice?

The short answer: yes, he would push ahead.

Democratic voters may understand that any progressive agenda cooked up by a Democratic White House and a Democratic-controlled House is dead on arrival in a McConnell-controlled Senate.

What they may not fathom: Trump, if re-elected, could have up to three more Supreme Court justices to replace by the time he left office in January 2025 (I'm thinking: Thomas, Ginsburg and Breyer). But should those replacements have to filter through a Democratic screen in the Senate, Trump might be forced to find more moderate choices.

There's one other choice for Pelosi: find someone else to write her emails. One such candidate: the comedian Jon Stewart, currently at odds with the Senate Majority Leader over 9/11 first-responder benefits.

Odds are, whatever the former television host would pen would be far more poignant and (deliberately) funnier than anything coming out of the Speaker's shop. And, given Stewart's past life as the star of hip and sardonic The Daily Show, far more relatable to young voters than the superannuated Democrats running for president and hoping to control in 2021.

Jon Stewart doing Nancy Pelosi's handiwork? Think of it as a welcome change from the "daily show" of cliché political fundraising.