Opinion

McConnell stares down the barrel of Trump's gun

Who will be left standing in Georgia?

At the risk of offending desperados from places like Greenland and North Korea, to say nothing of millions of law-abiding citizens in a certain Central American republic, I will not refer to the situation in which Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell find themselves as a "Mexican stand-off."

It would not be entirely accurate anyway. Both men have fired their weapons. Trump is already in the dirt shouting curses at all the dirty dogs what done him in, and viewers watching the slow-motion finale are wondering whether David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia's two sitting Republican senators, were grazed by the bullet intended for McConnell.

This is the cruel ending to the Trump spaghetti western. McConnell refused to pass a second stimulus bill in October with a second round of four-figure direct payments, a surefire electoral gambit for the now outgoing president. Like many other establishment Republicans, he seems to have decided that four years of showboating opposition under Joe Biden would be preferable to the disagreeable business of trying to govern alongside a mercurial president who had already done everything the GOP wanted by cutting taxes at the end of his first year in office.

Trump knows this. It is why he has decided that he has nothing to lose by making Georgia, where Loeffler and Perdue both face runoff elections on Tuesday, the main stage act in his traveling "Stop the Steal" Wild West circus tour. The runoffs have become a de facto referendum on last November's presidential election, forcing both candidates to disavow other Republicans in the state in which they hope to continue holding statewide elected office.

Trump's plan might increase turnout, though there are also reasons to think that recent comments by his associates discouraging participation in the allegedly rigged contest will have the opposite effect. Either way, it will also have the effect of firing up the Democratic base.

If Purdue and Loeffler are re-elected, Trump will take the credit for the narrow 52-48 majority over which McConnell will continue to preside. If they lose, he will blame the governor, the attorney general, state election officials, Dominion, and Republican politicians around the country who have refused to go along with his last-ditch efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election. And he will almost certainly use what remains of his considerable influence over the Republican base to encourage a challenge to McConnell's leadership of the GOP Senate minority.

On the eve of the runoff it is impossible to say anything with confidence about the outcome. Most of the polls show both Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, with narrow leads that fall within the margin of error. These polls include Trafalgar, the upstart right-leaning polling operation that proved to be more accurate than many of its competitors in the 2020 presidential election. If both Democrats win, the Senate will find itself split 50-50, making Kamala Harris the most consequential vice president in recent American history. If a sizable number of Georgia voters split their tickets, a bizarre but not entirely remote possibility, Republicans would remain a majority in name only, vulnerable to a single defection.

In Georgia, like so many other states in November, Trump appeared to enjoy a comfortable majority after polls closed. This lead would shrink as mail-in ballots, which Democratic voters seem to have favored by astonishing margins, were counted over the coming days and weeks. It is not impossible to imagine a similar scenario on Tuesday, in which Trump makes what ends up being a premature declaration of victory. Another Democratic sweep of the postal vote would leave Trump exactly where he was two months ago, flat on his back, cursing his enemies with his last breath — but with McConnell lying in the dust beside him.

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