Tom Nichols on Mitch McConnel and the Filibuster

Gomez Adams

Grammar Fascist
Staff member
Dec 1, 2020
Suwanee, Georgia
My former comrades on the right saying that "Because Mitch didn't dump the filibuster in 2017, he never will" are acting as if the past four years didn't happen. So, to use a political science term, let us engage in cutting the shit here for a moment.

McConnell and the GOP are without principle; their only principle is power and the expediencies that create power. In 2017, it was not in Mitch's interest to end the filibuster, especially with the risk that the GOP would lose seats in 2018. He knew he might need it.

This is the same McConnell whose respect for norms and tradition denied Garland a hearing and rammed through Barrett weeks before an election he knew Trump was likely to lose. He's a master of obstruction and opportunism. So let us cease this nonsense about Mitch's principles.

When @MichaelSteele said Mitch wouldn't think twice about "jettisoning the filibuster if it meant getting the GOP's agenda," he was right. Just because he didn't do it in 2017 doesn't mean that he has some sort of respect for tradition. It was about raw power calculations.

I have long defended the filibuster because I think there are things that should not be decided 51/49, that should require a greater show of comity. But Barrett's confirmation, in particular, made a mockery of that idea. This is hardball. Mitch plays it. Dems must play it too.

As a practical matter, I often advised not doing things the GOP could then adopt and use against the Dems (like dumping the filibuster). But that was from a different time, before the GOP became infested with the kind of mooks and poltroons who acquitted Donald Trump *twice*.

This is no longer a civic competition between two political parties. This is a direct competition between a coalition in favor of the rule of law and liberal democracy vs a party that has become Trump's weird cult of personality and an authoritarian political movement.

The GOP is using a Senate rule to forestall legislative action against state-level authoritarian measures from a GOP base that is enraged at losing a fair election. So if it comes down to that one Senate rule or democracy itself, dump the rule and pass the bill. Mitch would.

This isn't going to be the last test of the democracy coalition against the authoritarians. My biggest fear, really, is that the President Biden (himself too much a product of the Senate) and his Democrats - the leaders of this unwieldy coalition - are not up to the challenge.

But in any case, please spare me the bad-faith bloviation about how Mitch stood on principle in 2017. He made a smart call about what tools he'd need in the coming four years. He'd change that in a hot second if he reaches a different conclusion - and you know it.