I think most people can agree that Kentucky's Mitch McConnell is one of the most innovative Senate Minority Leaders in recent memory. His insight—that the opposition party can obstruct and force the majority party to bear the public’s discontent—helped give Republicans a House majority in 2010, and gave the GOP a fighting chance in this year’s presidential election (see: Mitt Romney’s late-game promise to bring bipartisanship to Washington).
If Romney had won—and if Republicans had taken the Senate—you could credibly argue that McConnell was one of the most successful minority leaders in modern history. Indeed, he would have been one of the chief architects behind a massive political comeback. In the real world, however, Barack Obama won reelection and Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate. And in the same way that Obama’s legacy would have been tarnished had he lost reelection, is it the case that McConnell’s is harmed because he failed to deliver the goods?
Consider the evidence: Yes, Republicans won a durable House majority. At the same time, they lost two shots at winning the Senate, a shot at winning the presidency, and a shot at greatly weakening the core Democratic legislative achievements of the last four years—the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. And McConnell’s strategy of categorical obstruction played a part in each failure. By blocking any cooperation on legislation, he sacrificed a chance for Republicans to water down Democratic priorities under the guise of bipartisanship. Instead, both health-care reform and financial reform are more robust than one would expect, given the composition of the Senate at the time (when, at various points, Ben Nelson and Scott Brown were necessary to break a filibuster).
McConnell’s strategy also helped create a climate of hyper-partisanship in the Republican Party, which manifested itself in a series of crusades against Republicans who had the temerity to work with Democrats. There’s a real sense in which McConnell’s decision to never work with the other side helped create candidates like Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell, who—in 2010—sunk the GOP’s chance at taking both chambers of Congress.
And finally, because Romney failed to defeat President Obama, Republicans have lost their chance—for good, it seems—to roll back the Democratic agenda of greater financial regulation and universal health access.
If I were a conservative interested in conservative policy outcomes—and not just blind rage against liberals—I’d want McConnell gone.