Secret Behind McConnell Gorsuch Victory? Shrug Off Liberal Hysteria

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s success in getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court is a reminder that in Washington, there’s no limit to what can be accomplished if conservatives don’t waste their time worrying about what the liberal press says about them.

House Speaker Paul Ryan may want to pay attention. Senator McConnell’s Supreme Court success offers a potentially useful template for Republicans to handle health care and tax reform. The question is whether Mr. Ryan has Mr. McConnell’s — well, in honor of Passover, let’s say, kishkes.

It may be difficult to recall at this point the bitterness with which the Left greeted the decision by Senate Republicans not even to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the court seat that opened up when Antonin Scalia died.

Mr. Obama went to the University of Chicago law school and declared that “Those in the Senate have decided that placating our base is more important than upholding their constitutional and institutional roles in our democracy in a way that is dangerous.”

A New York Times editorial insisted, “The shameful, infuriating actions of the Senate Republicans won’t be ignored in the history books.”

On PBS, a commentator explained that the Republican failure to act on Obama’s nomination of Garland was rooted in “racism … about delegitimizing an African-American person.”

The New Yorker magazine published an attempt at a humor piece making fun of Mr. McConnell’s jowls.

A lesser politician than Mr. McConnell  — a politician who cared more what the New York Times, President Obama, or PBS had to say about him — might have caved to the pressure. Instead, the senator from Kentucky stood his ground and held his caucus together.

This disregard for liberal conventional wisdom — and higher regard for the Constitution — is a habit for the Senate majority leader. It was on display during the George W. Bush administration, when Mr. McConnell brought a lawsuit, McConnell v. FEC, arguing that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that President Bush had signed into law was an unconstitutional infringement on liberties protected by the First Amendment.

If Mr. McConnell seems at times to relish his role as villain, Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, sometimes seems like he covets the John McCain-Lindsey Graham title of every liberal journalist’s most favorite Republican.

When Mr. Ryan wanted to defend the American Health Care Act, his half-baked ObamaCare alternative, he had a press conference and displayed a PowerPoint-style slide presentation. He likes releasing YouTube videos about the federal debt and entitlement programs.

There’s a generational difference between the more telegenic Mr. Ryan, 47, who arrived on Capitol Hill as a staffer in 1992, and the 75-year-old Mr. McConnell, who started as a Senate intern in 1964. McConnell’s memoir is called “The Long Game.” Mr. Ryan and two other congressmen wrote a book about themselves and called it “Young Guns.”

One can argue that confirming a Supreme Court justice is simpler than crafting tax or health care legislation. The first is a straight up-or-down decision, while the tax and health care laws involve countless arcane and complex policy details and trillions of dollars.

Maybe so. But at the moment, Mr. McConnell has a big win with the Gorsuch confirmation. Though it’s still early, Mr. Ryan has not shown a similar success in getting a winning vote on health care or tax reform.

On both issues, Republicans will face commentary just as harsh as Mr. McConnell received for blocking Garland. On health care, the press and the Democrats will accuse Republicans of callously taking health insurance coverage away from sick American families. On taxes, the complaint will be that Republicans are worsening the budget deficit with a giveaway tilted to help corporations and billionaires.

The Garland-Gorsuch episode is an argument for not letting the left-wing outrage factory drive the Congressional agenda. Mr. McConnell’s basic message about the Supreme Court vacancy was that we’re going to have an election and then do what the voters wanted us to do, no matter how unpopular it is with PBS or the New York Times editorial board. The approach worked out so well with the court nomination that perhaps it will embolden Republicans to experiment with a similar strategy on other issues. 


Ira Stoll is editor of and author of JFK, Conservative.