American Greatness, the online outlet that sprung up in the summer of 2016 to, in its own words, “be the leading voice of the next generation of American Conservatism,” has never lived up to that lofty mission. Mostly, it has had its hands full defending Donald Trump, particularly from any Republican who dares to cross the president in even the smallest way. One of its loudest and angriest commentators in this regard is Julie Kelly, who over the last four years has made a habit of picking vicious fights with those on the right whom she regards as Trump’s enemies — and she isn’t about to stop now that the president appears to have lost his bid for reelection.
According to Kelly, Mitch McConnell and the Senate majority he is likely to lead after the Georgia run-off elections on January 5 will roll right over and allow Joe Biden to enact his agenda without objection. With her typical lack of regard for evidence, Kelly asserts that there “is no reason to believe” that Senate Republicans will not get behind “a lite version of the Green New Deal,” “college debt forgiveness,” and even “some form of racial reparations.”
To hear sycophants such as Kelly tell it, you’d think that until Donald Trump took office, no prominent Republican had ever done anything to slow, much less stop, the progressive agenda. This narrative has its weaknesses; it ignores everything that the conservative movement accomplished in American politics prior to Trump’s rise, admits no knowledge of the constitutional limits of control of Congress, and lacks factual and historical grounding. But it also has one big strength for its adherents: It allows them to excuse Trump’s excesses, because it holds him up as the first GOP standard-bearer in history who fights.
One of the most welcome developments of the Trump era has been the rehabilitation of Mitch McConnell in the eyes of movement conservatives. McConnell is not and never will be a Trump-like bomb thrower, because, as Senate majority leader, he can’t afford to be. His job is to protect his caucus and steer legislation rightward, but he doesn’t have the luxury of using cable-news hits to endear himself to the base and prime himself for a run at the White House. He operates in the world of the possible, and he knows that in order to govern, the GOP must maintain a tent big enough for ideologues such as Ted Cruz and moderates such as Susan Collins, as well as sometimes compromising with Democrats on must-pass bills.
Yet, while McConnell is by necessity no paragon of ideological purity, you’d have to be either ignorant of his record or hell-bent on lying to your audience to proclaim, as Kelly does, that he will capitulate to Biden’s every whim.
This is a man who, years before Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, called defeating his bid for a second term “the single most important thing we want to achieve” — a man known to some on the left as the Grim Reaper and to others as Nuclear Cocaine Mitch. By almost any measure, he is one of the most effective and ruthless leaders that Republicans have ever had. His refusal to grant Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, so much as a hearing for six months prior to an election may have been decisive in Trump’s 2016 victory, and definitely paid off afterward in the form of Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Moreover, Kelly and others on the right who dismiss McConnell as good only for “confirming judges” ignore the fact that Obama’s only major legislative achievement came in 2010, when Republicans held only 41 seats in the upper chamber, and the fact that the GOP did not hold a majority until the last two years of Obama’s presidency. They bemoan McConnell’s supposed acquiescence during the Obama years but are curiously loath to name the concessions he granted Democrats from 2014 to 2016.
Because Kelly is unable to point to any real history of capitulation on McConnell’s part, she resorts to howling about the reluctance of GOP senators to fully embrace Trump’s faulty claims that voter fraud handed Joe Biden his apparent victory in last week’s election. She’s similarly outraged by Senator Ron Johnson, who co-authored an 87-page report on Hunter Biden’s international dealings, for not promising to subpoena the younger Biden after his father is inaugurated. How could one possibly conclude, after witnessing such abdications of duty, that the GOP will not get in line behind racial-reparations bills and the Green New Deal?
It’s been a fun four years for people like Kelly, who have used Donald Trump’s primacy in the Republican Party to harass and belittle anyone who dared not to defend every word that came out of the president’s mouth. Most famously, Kelly characterized Nancy French’s experience of childhood sexual abuse as “screwing around with her preacher” during the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, for the crime of suggesting that if Kavanaugh were guilty, he should not be seated. I will not enjoy watching Joe Biden take the oath of office and am unlikely to support much of anything he tries to accomplish for the duration of his term. But I will relish watching Kelly and her ilk flounder about for a shred of continued relevance while Mitch McConnell stymies the progressive agenda in the Senate.