Is there a lesson for Mitch McConnell in all this?
Before we move forward, let us look back. We heartily disapprove of the way Kentucky's two senators, Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, treated Gov. Ernie Fletcher when he came under attack by Democrats and during his unsuccessful 2007 re-election campaign. After having seen how McConnell treated Fletcher (and himself joining in the disgrace), Bunning should not have been surprised when McConnell did the same thing to him. That whole incident caused us to lose respect for the senators and it cost them our support, and we aren't sad to see Bunning leave the Senate.
Having said all that, given the events of the past week, now we wonder if McConnell isn't perhaps regretting his treatment of Bunning.
Bunning barely survived his 2004 re-election bid against Dan Mongiardo, then an unknown state senator from Hazard, due in large part to a series of gaffes he made on the campaign trail. Bunning started the campaign with a huge lead on Mongiardo, yet only won re-election by two percentage points. When Bunning announced his plans to seek re-election this year, McConnell publicly questioned his ability to win and began working behind the scenes to dry up his funding. Those acts effectively forced Bunning out of the race. It also left him palpably angry at McConnell.
Fast-forward to the events of the past several days. With no need to cater to the voters, Bunning singlehandedly blocked legislation in the Senate that would have extended unemployment benefits, funded transportation projects, and a host of other things. You had to be impersonating Rip Van Winkle the last few days not to have heard about it.
Despite what some of the conservative pundits are saying (and we love Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin as much as anyone), his stance was wildly unpopular among the country's voters. Suddenly the Democrats, on the defensive because of health care and cap-and-trade and a number of other issues, had an item they could pick up and run with.
Prior to Bunning's stunt, some analysts were predicting that the Republicans could recapture both the House and the Senate this fall. That would have brought Obama's socialist agenda to a screeching halt. Now, a defiant Bunning has let them back in the ballgame, the same way his erratic behavior turned Mongiardo from a politician without a chance into the candidate who nearly pulled one of the biggest political upsets in Kentucky history.
So think about it. Had McConnell not chased Bunning from the race, would he have made such a visible and unpopular stand in front of the nation and the state with an election coming up this fall? Would he have defied McConnell's pleas to get on board with the unanimous consent resolution to fund the unemployment extension and the other programs?
If the Democrats hold onto control of the Senate this fall and McConnell is relegated to his current post of minority leader instead of ascending to majority leader, it will be in no small part due to Bunning's antics. And McConnell need only look in the mirror to find a big part of the reason Bunnning was so obstinate and defiant.
We understand why Bunning took the stance he did. He wanted to force the Democrats to follow the "pay-go" rule they recently passed, and he wanted these items to be funded through unspent money already allocated for the stimulus. Had he been running for re-election, he might have gone about it in a different manner. But since he had nothing to lose due to his status as a lame duck who doesn't have to face the voters this fall, he threw his little fit for the nation to see. And he said "no" when his former friend publicly tried to get him to change his mind before he finally relented.
Make no mistake. What Bunning did was harmful for Republicans. It will probably come back to bite them in the fall, and was not what the GOP needed at a time when they were gaining momentum through what Limbaugh and others are rightfully calling a conservative ascendancy. It may very well cost McConnell the opportunity to reassume the post of Senate majority leader.
And McConnell can thank himself for this setback for his party due to his meddling in Bunning's campaign. This is the second time McConnell has sold out a fellow Republican when he was in a position to help, and may become the second time he's cost his party the election. Having help sink Fletcher's re-election campaign, McConnell now has likely contributed to a defeat for his party this year. Wonder if there's a lesson for McConnell somewhere in this mess?