Mitch McConnell embraces his dark side

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Mitch McConnell

"(Mitch McConnel's enemies) gave him more personality than he gave himself," Senator Lindsey Graham said. "And he's smart enough to play." | Drew Angerer / Getty Images

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The leader of the majority of the Senate is enjoying his turn as a villain of the left.

By BURGESS EVERETT

Call it "Cocaine Mitch", "Nuclear Mitch" or the "legislative cemetery" administrator. Mitch McConnell says it's still the "Grim Reaper", so he loves every moment.

While his critics have attempted to make the public Republican enemy of Kentucky no. 1, the leader of the Senate Gop has embraced demonization in an attempt to protect its Senate majority, its seat and its title as leader of the Senate GOP in US history.

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"We need to have some fun in this business," McConnell said in a brief interview. "I used to call myself Darth Vader when I was back in the financial campaign wars."

McConnell's recasting as an evil left-wing cartoon character is a dramatic transformation from the low-lipped, low-profile Republican leader, who was once the scourge of conservatives and even, sometimes, President Donald Trump.

But McConnell renewed his reputation on the right with his outspoken exercise of power – confirming two Supreme Court judges and dismantling parts of the obstruction while developing a talent to drive both the Democrats and his own GOP opponents crazy.

It is now interpreted by House Democrats as the worst thing in Congress – a "coward", according to Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) – and by the Democratic Senates as a destructive force destined to change the Senate forever. It is a stark contrast to the person who looks at the public with caution, deliberation and risk aversion that he has maintained for a long time.

"His enemies gave him more personality than he gave himself," said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "And he's smart enough to play."

McConnell's colleagues, who cite his sense of humor in private, may not be surprised by the turnaround. But most members of Congress don't stand for re-election as the opposition's biggest enemy, and that's exactly what they're doing.

The move will probably help McConnell avoid the kind of conservative primary challenge he faced in the past. And it fits perfectly with the national strategy that helped to conceive for its party that is heading towards 2020, presenting the GOP as a bulwark against socialism, even if the Republicans senates do not seem to have a real legislative agenda.

So when he hears the liberals complaining about McConnell killing their health care, environment and arms control priorities, McConnell can't help but smile.

"I appreciate them picking up what I call myself, which is the sad reaper when it comes to things like Green New Deal and Medicare for anyone," McConnell said. "I appreciate the attention."

For the Democrats, it is not a matter of laughter.

"Nobody should be proud of being the sad reaper of the bourgeois legislation that the Americans desperately need," said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), who is waging a bicameral communication war against McConnell as a "legislative cemetery" “.

It doesn't seem to have got under his skin. McConnell has no intention of considering most of the legislation of the Assembly and has instructed its committee presidents to draw up bipartisan invoices, although it is not clear when or if they will arrive on the floor. Among the criticisms, the Senate adheres to its simplified program, entering on Monday evening, often voting some judicial appointments until the weekend begins Thursday afternoon.

The leader of the GOP maintains a full wall in his offices of political cartoons, many not flattering, and the associates say that from time to time he asks the cartoonist to sign them. The assistants keep track of how many important political cartoons have been published about him: 592, of which 16 only this year.

McConnell doesn't even seem to care about being compared to a turtle, according to Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), a suggestion that was recently made in a Saturday Night Live scene that showed a McConnell imitator snapping his teeth on a piece of lettuce. McConnell looked at the skit, which depicted him as supporting Trump through literally everything and "he loved," said an assistant.

"He seems to hug him. He's an expert, shrewd and effective boy. I just think you let him run his back like water on a duck," said Cornyn.

Ever since West Virginia Republican Don Blankenship slammed him into "Cocaine Mitch", citing reports that drugs were found on a ship owned by McConnell's father-in-law shipping company, McConnell occasionally responded to the phone as "Cocaine Mitch".

Helpers say he is sometimes called by passers-by at the airport, and his campaign has recently started selling t-shirts based on attack. The nickname became a battle cry among some activists who see McConnell as a popular hero on the right – a seemingly unlikely status six years ago when he faced a serious primary conservative challenge – and that still surprises some colleagues.

"Does this define you? It's okay if you can laugh about it, whatever it is," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "The fact is that he changed the Senate in ways that I think may never be the same again."

Durbin nicknamed McConnell "Nuclear Mitch" for leading Republicans to unilaterally change Senate rules to speed up Trump nominees this year, a move that comes after McConnell triggered the "nuclear option" to kill the 39; obstructionism on the candidates of the Supreme Court. But McConnell doesn't seem to care either, say the associates. And the self-proclaimed status of McConnell as the "Grim Reaper" of democratic priorities is probably an even more obscure moniker than what the Democrats claim to run a "legislative cemetery".

The traffic jam powered by McConnell has Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) Considering, once again, whether to leave Capitol and run for governor.

"It can be very unpleasant at times," said Manchin. "I'm stopping all that is good for this country is what (McConnell) should run (up). Because that's what it does."

For all his hardball tactics, McConnell has a sense of ironic and self-deprecating humor, according to senators and helpers. He understands that fighting public perceptions and insults would only give his enemies what they want, so he replaces them instead.

"Most politicians are rather insecure. It is obviously very safe," said Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), One of the most recent GOP senators. "There is no better way to deflect an insult than to hug it."

Yet McConnell also sees real utility in all this. If the GOP leader is seen as the front-line boy who beats back to the left, there is almost no disadvantage unless he somehow finds himself in a competitive general election.

For now, it seems unlikely. And McConnell is already predicting that his blockade of liberal legislation will help him keep him as the leader of the Senate majority in 2021, regardless of what happens in the presidential race.

The Democrats' order on health care and climate change is "not going to the Senate," McConnell said. "It will not pass the Senate after maintaining our majority in 2020."

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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