WASHINGTON — So Mitch McConnell thinks his prospective Democratic opponent should stop running mean ads against him during the coronavirus crisis.
The poor dear.
“As Senator McConnell leads bipartisan efforts to help Kentuckians and all Americans cope with the impact of the coronavirus, Amy McGrath continues to run millions of dollars in false, negative political advertising designed to tear us apart,” McConnell’s campaign manager said in a statement Tuesday, citing neither ad nor falsehood but denouncing her “refusal to stop airing false political advertising during the coronavirus outbreak.”
For McConnell, this is a most convenient demand: With the coronavirus crisis likely to go on for months, McConnell could have his reelection come and go in November without anybody running ads detailing how the Senate majority leader, the self-styled “grim reaper,” has done more in recent years than any other person to embitter our politics and incapacitate government.
Making McConnell’s umbrage all the more cynical: Groups affiliated with him have gone about their political attacks even as he claims that he should be immune.
The coronavirus crisis hasn’t stopped the National Republican Senatorial Committee, an arm of the Republican Senate leadership, from making statements attacking Democratic Senate candidate (and governor) Steve Bullock in Montana (“ran his administration like a frat house”), Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock in Georgia (“launching a political campaign with a police report is never a good look”) and Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly in Arizona (“he’s for sale to the highest bidder”).
The crisis didn’t stop One Nation, a dark-money group allied with McConnell, from launching a new $700,000 ad campaign this week in support of Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and a $970,000 campaign boosting Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
The crisis didn’t stop a super PAC run by McConnell allies, the Senate Leadership Fund, from meddling last month in a Democratic Senate primary in North Carolina, or this month in a Republican primary in Georgia. Nor has McConnell expressed similar concern about Republican super PACs attacking Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan, Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon in Maine and Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison in South Carolina — all during the current crisis.
The Republicans’ outrage about campaigning during the coronavirus outbreak appears to reflect a desire to self-isolate Republicans from any political damage from the response to the virus. For example, McSally this week said she was temporarily suspending her campaign — “This is not a time for politics,” she said — conveniently just as the McConnell-associated group began running ads on her behalf. No doubt Republicans would like social distancing between themselves and the political fallout from the virus — but that’s not how democracy works.
Certainly, Democrats and Republicans need to work together now and in the future to pass legislation to combat the virus and its economic impact. But elections go on during times of crisis and war. And the bungled handling of the virus is exactly the sort of mismanagement that should disqualify President Trump from reelection. It would be political malpractice if Democrats didn’t point out that the Trump administration’s lack of preparedness for the virus and its woeful early response are direct consequences of Trump’s leadership failures — and of congressional Republicans’ failure to hold him accountable.
Trump depleted the government of scientific expertise and did little to heed warnings to prepare for a pandemic. He blocked Congress from conducting meaningful oversight. He repeatedly proposed cutting public health and medical research. The constant turnover and reliance on “acting” officials eroded competence. His reckless stimulus legislation during an economic boom and his badgering of the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates left few fiscal and monetary tools to stop the ongoing economic panic. His constant stream of falsehoods misled the nation about the threat of the virus and contributed to a delayed, haphazard response. His administration badly misjudged the impact of the virus and was claiming until just a couple of weeks ago that it would require no additional government spending.
And now, Trump dodges responsibility. “It snuck up on us,” he claimed at a White House briefing Wednesday. “This is a very unforeseen thing,” he claimed. As for well-connected people getting tests when others can’t, he said: “perhaps that’s been the story of life.” He also used the virus briefing to say that “I’m beating Sleepy Joe Biden by a lot in Florida,” that “I’m 95 percent of the Republican Party” and that China may be punished for the “Chinese virus.”
Snuck up on us? Unforeseen? Trump dismissed warning after warning after warning. Now, we work as one to save our lives and our economy. But there will be no way for Trump and McConnell to quarantine the consequences of their bad leadership.
(The columnist’s wife is a pollster for Arizona Senate candidate Mark Kelly.)
Dana Milbank is an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post. He sketches the foolish, the fallacious and the felonious in politics.