Bryan Harsin was one of the most disappointing head coaches in the history of the Auburn football program, rivaling only Doug Barfield in recent memory in terms of disappointment.
When the university’s brass pulled the trigger, deciding to let him go, what if Harsin’s parting shot had been, “I would have done a lot better as the head coach at Auburn University if it weren’t for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa 150 miles away getting all of the good recruits and positive accolades!”
Everyone would have laughed at him, and they should. Harsin knew going into the Auburn job he would have been competing against one of the best in college football history. That was a reality of the battlefield and hardly an excuse.
Why are we doing the same thing with Republican politics?
The so-called smart set, meaning those who pride themselves on being a part of the brainpower of the Republican Party, blames former President Donald Trump.
They’re not wrong to do that. If Trump is not competing for fundraising or picking lackluster candidates in Republican primaries, perhaps the GOP would have been better positioned on Nov. 8 and could have avoided a disappointing outcome.
That is an easy thing to agree to.
However, it is not like we didn’t know Trump would play a role in this election cycle.
Yet, folks proclaim, “Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment would have done much better in their leadership roles if it weren’t for Donald Trump down at Mar-a-Lago supporting bad candidates and amassing political contributions.”
Here’s the problem: Donald Trump is a private citizen. He’s not elected to anything. Last I checked, he still has the First Amendment protecting his right to say and do as he pleases in the realm of politics. Also, more importantly than any of that, he has a very loyal group of supporters who enable him.
Those supporters also have First Amendment protections to support whoever they damn well please.
Blame Trump if you must, but very little can be done to remove him from the process. For now, he’s a battlefield condition that has to be recognized.
On the other hand, why are rank-and-file Republicans so wedded to Mitch McConnell?
This is not the first election where he has been in a position of authority and underperformed. In fact, the rise of Trump can be partly attributed to McConnell and other old-guard Republicans overpromising and underdelivering time after time.
He is not charismatic. He has an approval rating lower than Biden, Trump, Pelosi and Congress. He just barely scrapes by in his home state elections despite vastly outperforming his Democrat challengers in fundraising.
McConnell is the leader of Senate Republicans for two reasons. The most important is big donors trust McConnell. They want something done and Mitch is their man. They write him the big checks for his election machinery. That election machinery goes to work for current and potential McConnell lieutenants in the U.S. Senate. When the time comes to vote for caucus leader, McConnell always has wrapped up the bulk of the votes.
But McConnell is not getting the job done. Once upon a time, when the party underperformed or was handed an election loss, as was the case with last week’s midterms, the caucus leader was expected to fall on the sword and bow out gracefully.
There seems to be a different expectation now. The same is true to some degree on the other side of the aisle with Nancy Pelosi.
She won in 2006 but lost in 2010. Somehow, Pelosi continued to hold on as minority leader. She then led the party back to the majority in 2018 and became speaker again.
The difference with Pelosi was she did not look at Obama in 2010 and Biden in 2022 (assuming the House goes Republican) and blame them.
Let’s give the McConnell apologists the benefit of the doubt. McConnell did nothing wrong, including supporting a weak U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado and McConnell loyalist Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska over Republican Kelly Tshibaka.
What do you do about Trump? What can you do about Trump? Lock him up?
It is a stubborn reality that Trump is not going anywhere.
The best person to lead Republican political infrastructure is someone who can navigate the pitfalls associated with Trump’s presence in GOP politics.
While House Republicans did not have the outcome they had hoped for, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at least went through the motions with Trump. He went to Mar-a-Lago, posed for the photo and would occasionally sing the praises of Orange Man Bad.
Unlike their Senate counterparts, McCarthy and the House Republicans will have a majority in 2023.
The fix needs to happen soon. Republicans will have a favorable map in 2024 for the U.S. Senate. Many Democrats are on defense, and this finger-pointing exercise will not move the ball in a favorable direction in the meantime.