Now that the dust has mostly settled from the 2018 midterm elections, we can crown the biggest winner from the campaign: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Sure, he has a slightly larger majority to lead in 2019, but that isn't why the campaign turned out so well for him. Instead, Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives — and in doing so, provided McConnell with one of the greatest luxuries in politics: clarity.
Democratic control of one-half of Congress means that neither the House nor the Senate will be able to advance much legislation without bipartisan support. That allows McConnell to narrow his agenda down to just two items:
1. Stock the judiciary with more conservative judges
2. Fight off any efforts by Democrats to impeach President Trump
Can you imagine how relieved McConnell must be? The GOP legislative agenda of the last couple of years hasn't been that robust anyway; Republicans passed a giant tax cut for their rich friends, failed to repeal ObamaCare, then spent the rest of the time twiddling their thumbs. What were they going to do in the second half of Trump's term that they didn't get done during the first half?
Now, Republicans don't even have to try all that hard.
Instead, expect the GOP to use a well-worn strategy: McConnell and his followers will simply block every major piece of legislation that comes out of the Democratic-controlled House. Then, in 2020, they will blame Dems for the unending gridlock.
You could see McConnell laying the foundation for this strategy in his brazenly hypocritical op-ed last week on FoxNews.com titled "Will Dems work with us, or simply put partisan politics ahead of the country?" In it, he said that "however Democrats interpret the latest message from voters, Senate Republicans will continue our commitment to delivering results."
McConnell's column was, rightly, laughed off the internet. But this strategy has worked before.
It was McConnell, after all, who kept Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's last Supreme Court nominee, from getting an up-or-down vote in the Senate. His opposition to Obama was so complete, he once filibustered his own debt-ceiling proposal rather than let the president have a victory. What did he get for his part in a strategy of near-endless obstructionism when Democrats were in charge? Quite a lot: In 2010, he became majority leader. In 2016, he saved Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court for conservatives.
Why change what works?
Since Trump became president, it has sometimes seemed that Republicans prefer obstructionism and opposition to the responsibilities of government. The president has mused, repeatedly, about shutting down government unless he gets funding for a border wall — an almost unheard-of tactic for a party with control of both the White House and Congress. And the president has often cast the very real legal and constitutional limits on his authority as the work of a "Deep State" attempting to thwart him. Even when they have near-complete control, Republicans like the role of underdog.
With Democrats gaining a sliver of power, don't be surprised if McConnell and the GOP reinvent themselves not as a governing party, but as The Resistance to The Resistance. Sound cynical? Sure. But McConnell, it's clear, has earned his reputation as "one of the most cynical politicians in the history of this great land."
That's not to say Republicans won't be busy for the next two years. The Constitution gives the Senate the lone legislative authority to approve presidential appointments, including judges. And while the House can — and may — vote to impeach Trump, it's the Senate that would serve as judge and jury for any charges. At this point, at least, it's difficult to imagine McConnell presiding over Trump's ouster for office.
And so, McConnell gets to do his favorite parts of the job: blame Democrats for whatever's left undone, all while giving President Trump's deputies the breathing room to spend two more years stripping regulations out of the Federal Register.
It's cynical to suggest that Democrats did Republicans a favor by beating them so thoroughly in House races. But the GOP — and Mitch McConnell, in particular — really do find themselves in an enviable position: They retain plenty of authority, but have been freed from responsibility. That makes McConnell the biggest winner of 2018.