Arizona MAGA Senate candidate: Second look at Mitch McConnell?

Source: Hot Air

Here’s the perfect sequel to Saturday’s post about populists’ latest excuse to whine disingenuously about McConnell. Recently Cocaine Mitch struck a defeatist note when he said that the House stands a better chance of turning red than the Senate does (true) and blamed that in part on questionable candidate quality among the GOP’s Senate nominees (also true). What McConnell didn’t say but which was clearly implied — and clearly understood by MAGA commentators — was that most of the party’s underperforming Senate candidates happen to have been endorsed by Donald Trump. Trump can’t be blamed for all of them; I think Herschel Walker, for instance, would have won the Georgia primary regardless. But Trump probably was the difference-maker for J.D. Vance in Ohio, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, and Blake Masters in Arizona.

One would think he would therefore assume the responsibility of trying to get these guys elected. He’s politically invested in them, after all, and not just as endorsees. If Trump is serious about building a MAGA mini-caucus that’s unbeholden to McConnell — and which might one day provide the votes to depose him as GOP leader — he should be using the fundraising and campaigning powers at his disposal to make the potential members of that caucus as independent from the GOP establishment as possible. Imagine Senators Vance, Oz, Masters, and Walker showing up for work next year owing McConnell and the Republican donor class nothing whatsoever for their victories. Combine them with Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and a few others and you’d have a sort of “MAGA Party” within the Senate Republican Party that wouldn’t need to care what Mitch McConnell thinks about anything.

Unfortunately for populists, Trump is lazy and greedy. Instead of having his Super PAC plow part of its enormous war chest into the Senate races in OH, PA, AZ, and GA, he’s mostly sitting on the money. Worse still, because his fundraising machine never sleeps, he’s sucking up cash that might otherwise go to groups like the NRSC that really would use it to rescue candidates like Vance and Masters, both of whom are newbie politicians and struggling to raise competitive amounts of money themselves.

Which presents a sweet opportunity for a shrewd old hand like McConnell to coopt Trump’s populist endorsees. McConnell’s PAC also has an enormous war chest, as being leader of the caucus gives him unusual access to the Republican donor class. If Mitch sits on that money to spite Trump and his candidates rather than helping them out, he’s likely to be back in the minority in the Senate next year. Whereas if he starts spending on them, he gets a twofer — not only might Trump’s endorsees win enough races to flip the Senate but they’ll owe McConnell dearly once they get there. All of the populist firebreathing in the primaries about ousting him as leader or making life hard for him will go out the window, replaced by more cautious blather about how they “don’t always see eye to eye with Leader McConnell” but “respect him for his leadership on issues such as” yadda yadda.

Bottom line: Because of his stinginess, Trump is blowing his chance to get candidates elected who owe him everything and McConnell nothing. By the end of their races, in fact, these guys may owe Mitch as much as they owe Trump. Masters is already showing a sudden shift in tone, in fact.

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters said Friday he hopes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will back his close campaign in Arizona, striking a magnanimous tone toward the GOP leader he fiercely criticized during the primary.

“I think he’ll come in and spend. Arizona’s gonna be competitive. It’s gonna be a close race, and I hope he does come in,” Masters told The Associated Press during a brief interview following a roundtable with construction industry leaders outside Phoenix. “And we’ll find a way to work together.”

On Friday, Masters predicted McConnell will get another term as GOP leader and no Republicans will challenge him.

I think he’ll be in charge. And I’m not just going to be a senator that falls in line to whatever he says,” Masters told construction company officials. “I’ll hear him out. I’m happy to listen. But my vote doesn’t belong to Mitch McConnell. It doesn’t belong to Donald Trump.”

Masters said during the primaries that McConnell shouldn’t be caucus leader anymore and accused him of being bad at legislating, music to the ears of his patron, Donald Trump. Now the primaries are over and Masters is getting utterly crushed by Democrat Mark Kelly in fundraising. He needs a bailout. But if Daddy Donald isn’t prepared to offer him one and the MAGA faithful aren’t willing to buoy him up with small-dollar donations, what choice does he have except to beg Uncle Mitch?

The same goes for J.D. Vance in Ohio, another Peter-Thiel-backed nationalist who’s in a more competitive race than expected against Democrat Tim Ryan. Vance should win that seat thanks to Ohio’s strong Republican lean but the matter is in enough doubt that McConnell’s PAC is about to drop a cool $28 million in the state to help him over the finish line. That’s $28 million that can’t be spent on Masters, Walker, or Oz, all of whom are running in states that Biden won two years ago, but again, McConnell knows an opportunity when he sees one. J.D. Vance is — or was — potentially a major thorn in his side as a senator next year. After he accepts a $28 million check from McConnell, he won’t be anymore.

Ben Domenech is correct in warning Trump and the populists to recalibrate their expectations about the next Senate GOP majority will look like: Mitch McConnell isn’t going anywhere.

Of course, the unspoken reality is that behind Masters’ request and the Vance expenditures is Trump’s own decision to sit on his pile of gold instead of spending on the Senate candidates he’s endorsed. His Save America Super PAC could be the alternative funding source these candidates need. But even sitting on a massive war chest and reaping the financial benefits of outrage over the Mar-a-Lago FBI raid, they’ve spent little cash on actually backing candidates…

The problem of these underfunded campaigns represents a key test: how will Trump and his team make the transition to the new establishment of a Republican Party they now effectively run? The answer depends on understanding something basic: unity runs in two directions. A diminutive version of Trump would find it sufficient to destroy candidates he dislikes in primaries with those he prefers. One who wants to lead the Republican Party would understand it only matters if you get them elected.

Count me in as believing that the “diminutive version of Trump” is in fact the Trump that actually exists, a character who cares less about winning Senate seats and building majorities than he does about settling grudges with disloyal Republicans and lording his influence over the party. Most of his candidates won their primaries and he got rid of nearly every House Republican who voted to impeach him, so his mission has been accomplished. If figures like Masters and Walker fall short in November, the blame can always be offloaded onto enemies like McConnell or Brian Kemp or whoever. This point can’t be stressed enough even though it should be evident by now to anyone who follows American politics even casually: Trump doesn’t care about the party. The party exists to serve him, not vice versa. If you want a guy who cares about actually winning elections, call Uncle Mitch.