For the better part of the past five years, Mitch McConnell has crafted a veritable playbook for surfing the Trump wave while mitigating his exposure to the most vile and damaging elements of the former president. He’s been disciplined (never invoking Trump’s name), calculating (never a “no” just because Trump is a “yes”), and realpolitik (bear-hugging problematic Trump candidates, such as Georgia’s Herschel Walker, who allegedly held a gun to his wife’s head). This rare political dexterity explains why the Hammer has been elected unopposed Minority or Majority Leader of the Senate since 2007, a tenure in which he has been master of the legislative process and has had full command of the G.O.P. conference.
It’s all a bit wild considering that McConnell is a deeply unpopular figure in the country, and even in his home state of Kentucky. But McConnell doesn’t care about popularity so much as he cares about the institution, and ultimately changing the country through confirming conservative judges, which he’s done at a record pace that will define his legacy.
There’s been the persistent rumor throughout D.C. that McConnell will retire in two years, when he turns 82 and surpasses Mike Mansfield as the longest-serving Senate party leader. But there’s been even more whispering lately that he has lost his grip on the party. This election season, in particular, could test the theory. McConnell faces a multi-headed hydra of issues that will challenge even his own legendary wits and cunning: a slate of antagonistic candidates, some of whom are already calling for his ouster; divisions within his own ranks; and the ambitions and whims of the other senior citizen vying for unrivaled control of the party.