We already have a Republican Party, and Kentucky already has a Republican senator up for re-election in November.
Not just any Republican senator, either: Mitch McConnell, the best investment the Chamber of Commerce ever made. A man who is so integral to what the conservative movement has won and what it’s become in the last decade, and yet is so deeply loathsome that even the people who agree with him can’t stand him.
What Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer thought in February 2019 was: What if they had another one?
Just as in 2013 and 2014, when they ran Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrats saw McConnell’s underwater popularity in Kentucky and recent history of electing a Democratic governor and thought: Why not take a shot? Unlike in 2014, however, Chuck Schumer is running the Senate Democrats, and has taken a large role in Senate recruiting.
So far, Schumer is getting bailed out by President Donald Trump’s deep unpopularity and Joe Biden’s lead in the polls; if the election were held today, the Democrats would be a good bet to pick up the Senate majority. But that doesn’t mean that Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s effort across the country hasn’t been woeful.
In North Carolina, Schumer struck out in recruiting Attorney General Josh Stein and Charlotte-area state senator Jeff Jackson, and so he landed on Cal Cunningham, a man who served exactly one (1) term as state senator during the Bush administration, then was recruited in 2010 to run for (you guessed it) U.S. Senate, only to be beaten in the primary by Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. He won this time, and he’s running neck and neck with Tillis.
In Colorado, Schumer aggressively recruited John Hickenlooper as he was flopping around like a dead fish during the presidential primary debates and getting outshined by such bright lights as John Delaney, then got his wish when Hickenlooper jumped into a crowded field that’s been whittled to him and liberal former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff for the chance to face Cory Gardner. Now it appears no one ever bothered to vet Hickenlooper, because fuck it, who has the time?
In Kansas, Schumer and the DSCC recruited (and then endorsed) Barbara Bollier, a state legislator who describes herself as a “fiscal conservative,” which makes sense because she was a Republican until 2018. (There’s plenty of blame to go around here, to be fair, as the entire Kansas Democratic establishment including Gov. Laura Kelly and former HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius got behind Bollier early on.)
In Colorado and North Carolina, at least, the Democrats might win anyway because Trump is deeply unpopular and the incumbents are much more right-wing than the states they represent. But it is hardly a testament to Schumer’s brilliance that he might benefit from the unholy trifecta of a pandemic, an economic depression, and a mass insurrection (though we do like the insurrection).
Nowhere has Schumer’s own bed-shitting been more clear than in Kentucky, where he recruited Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who had just been comfortably beaten in a swing House race by Republican backbencher Andy Barr. McGrath is like a parody of a Democratic swing candidate. She’s argued that she’s more pro-Trump than Mitch McConnell, still can’t make up her mind about Brett Kavanaugh, and tricked a bunch of poor miners into being her campaign ad.
McGrath has also raised the most money in the country among Senate candidates, though it’s likely much of it is coming from outside of Kentucky. But now McGrath is somehow in real danger of losing her primary to state Rep. Charles Booker, a Medicare for All-supporting progressive backed by Bernie Sanders who’s raised and spent a fraction of what she has.
And it’s not just that Schumer bigfooted into the race; it’s that he and the DSCC apparently didn’t even bother to ask Kentucky’s establishment what they thought. In addition to Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Booker’s been backed by Lundergan Grimes, former attorney general and House speaker Greg Stumbo, and a slew of his fellow Democrats in the legislature. McGrath, on the other hand, has the support of almost no one in Kentucky, not even the party’s establishment, and just this week, Schumer had to answer for how bad of a job she’s doing.
Kentucky just elected a pro-choice, somewhat liberal, often confused governor, and yet it seems that Chuck Schumer just assumed they wanted Joe Manchin II.
The funniest thing about all of this (I’m actually laughing) is that people like McGrath are historically the absolute biggest pains in the ass for Democrats. It’s not people like AOC and Rashida Tlaib trying to dump Nancy Pelosi from leadership or telling Schumer to kiss their asses or voting for diarrhea as Speaker of the House, it’s people like Josh Gottheimer and Joe Manchin and Jeff Van Drew. People like, judging by her politics, McGrath.
I’m under no illusion that Schumer would rather have a minority full of Manchins than a majority full of socialists. But these people and their votes consistently provide the best argument for the idea that neither Democrats nor Republicans ultimately do shit for anyone. The more the Democratic Party is seen as a reflection of how right-wing the GOP is at the time, the less it’s able to define itself as something more than marginally different, and the less often it’s able to win, especially in a state like Kentucky that’s in the middle of a shift towards the GOP.
If you look at some of the more useful members of the Senate Democratic caucus, one common thread that holds them together is that they’re tailored to their states without being utterly useless to the party’s supposed goals. Ohio has only gotten more and more conservative over the past decade as union membership has plummeted, and yet old-school labor Dem Sherrod Brown won his re-election two years ago by a comfortable margin. Trump won Montana by more than 20 points, but Jon Tester has been a reliable Democratic vote and yet has still won three statewide elections by focusing on issues like public lands; by FiveThirtyEight’s standard of using Trump administration positions as a measuring stick, imprecise as that may be, Tester’s by far the most useful member of the caucus. (Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, by comparison, is essentially the median Republican Senate caucus member.)
Let’s be real: it would take a real wave of mammoth proportions beyond what we saw in 2010, 2018, or even 1994 to beat McConnell in Kentucky. And if Trump’s popularity continues to nosedive, maybe Schumer will get that wave, and retake the Senate off of Joe Biden’s coattails even with his many missteps here.
But in spite of Biden’s primary victory, it’s clear what voters in the Democratic Party want and where it’s heading. And if the progressives in the Democratic Party ever have hopes of actually doing something with the goodwill for the policies they want, they could do a lot worse than to start by getting rid of Chuck Schumer.