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A lesson from Mitch McConnell

Senator Mitch McConnell wasn’t always a Trumpian. In fact, in his heart of hearts, he still may not be a genuine Trump supporter. Trumpian or not, what is for certain is that Mitch McConnell is an unshakeable, diehard Republican devotee.

When Trump first began campaigning, McConnell was not behind him. In fact, he masterminded a plan that would have lawmakers break with Trump in a general election. Yet he soon realized that Trump would become the medium through which he could push the party’s agenda.

McConnell’s tenure in the Obama Senate reflected an epiphany about what it takes to advance red values: If you unify your caucus in a disciplined way, you can accomplish a lot.

And so, the Republican minority came together. Their strategy during that time was to paralyze progress until another Republican entered the Oval Office. When it came to the 2016 election, McConnell wasn’t initially a Trumpian. But he quickly became one when he realized that a Republican Trump was preferable to any Democratic opponent.

When the world learned about the Republican nominee’s lewd behavior toward women and potential Russian collusion, McConnell remained uninvolved. It was simply a matter of Republican strategy. Trump was his party’s candidate, and as such, he would be the one to advance the conservative agenda. This suspicion was confirmed with Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and various other presidential decisions since 2016.

Though unifying the party has worked well for McConnell, Democrats have employed the opposite strategy in their attempt to unseat Trump. In an already crowded road to 2020, it seems someone new announces their presidential bid each day. Warren, Gillibrand, Harris and Booker are the leading candidates for the primary — while we still await potential entrances by Biden, Schultz, O’Rourke and any number of politicos hoping to rescue America.

It is certainly exciting that so many formidable candidates are clamoring to take on President Trump in 2020. Simultaneously heartening is the size and diversity of the speculative list of contenders. Incumbents normally get reelected, but 2020 is a special case; in 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by a significant 46 to 48 percent, and his net approval rating is the worst of any post-war president.

There are many Democrats seeking to be part of the probable Trump defeat, and yet their efforts to enter the race seem almost frenetic. As dozens more consider announcing their bid, it becomes increasingly difficult for voters to unify around the Democratic candidate for President. In the last election, more than one in 10 Bernie supporters during the primary defected to Trump in the general election — yes, that would have been enough to swing the election toward Clinton. In other words, if supporters of the Democratic platform had remained unified around their party values, perhaps we could have avoided four years of family separations and never-ending demands for a wall.

Regardless of who goes head to head with Trump in 2020, if we want to win, we must stand firmly by the Democrat in the running. As McConnell and the conservative caucus have shown us, solidarity with the leader — no matter how controversial he may be — can eventually advance the party platform. In the next presidential election, let’s take a lesson from the Republicans: If you unify, you can accomplish a lot.

 

Contact Tashrima Hossain at thossain’at’stanford.edu.

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