With the new Congress about to take office, I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot of discussion about how Republicans, and Mitch McConnell in particular, are charting a new, productive path, now that they "need to show they can govern." Like this article in today's Washington Post:
Mitch McConnell has an unusual admonition for the new Republican majority as it takes over the Senate this week: Don't be "scary."
The incoming Senate majority leader has set a political goal for the next two years of overseeing a functioning, reasonable majority on Capitol Hill that scores some measured conservative wins, particularly against environmental regulations, but probably not big victories such as a full repeal of the health-care law. McConnell's priority is to set the stage for a potential GOP presidential victory in 2016.
"I don't want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that's going to be a scary outcome. I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority," the Kentucky Republican said in a broad interview just before Christmas in his Capitol office.
One of the nice things about McConnell is that while he can certainly spin with the best of them, he's also often unusually candid about the political strategy he's employing. It's actually refreshing to hear a politician not bother with all the "We just want to do the right thing for the American people" baloney, and just say: this is my political goal, and this is how I'm going to try to get there.
As Alec MacGillis argues in his book about McConnell, the guy really doesn't have much in the way of an agenda or a set of firmly held beliefs about policy — for him, it has always been about the next political goal. Gaining and then holding power is the end, not the means to an end. Did you know that McConnell started out his career as a pro-choice, pro-union moderate Republican? I didn't either, but it makes sense. At the time that was a perfectly fine thing to be, but when the center of gravity in the GOP shifted, McConnell shifted along with it.
While there are Republicans who hate Barack Obama with a burning passion, for McConnell it's business, not personal. He devised and implemented the strategy of total obstruction in the first six years of the Obama presidency not because he couldn't stand the president, but because he thought (correctly) that it would be the strategy most likely to get Republicans what they wanted. While it didn't stop Obama from being re-elected, it did help Republicans win control of Congress, and pick up huge spending cuts along the way.
Now that McConnell achieved his goal of winning control of Congress, he's looking to the next goal: getting a Republican president. He knows that while congressional Republicans don't have the power to make that happen, they can certainly screw it up by looking too crazy. So the new strategy is to look a little more sober and responsible — not so much that they actually do a lot of legislating and make substantive compromises with Obama, but just enough to avoid government shutdowns and anything else that might make the 2016 GOP nominee uncomfortable. As usual, it's pretty clever.