Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday conceded the Republican Party faces severe challenges in 2020, but he asserted that making the next election a referendum on socialism could preserve GOP control of the Senate and reelect President Trump.
McConnell, 77 and running for a seventh term in Kentucky, said Republicans need to heed warning signs from the midterm elections, a blowout in the suburbs that cost the party control of the House of Representatives plus Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada.
“We got crushed in the suburbs,” the majority leader told reporters during a late afternoon interview on Capitol Hill.
McConnell ticked off cities with traditionally Republican suburbs where the party shed House seats, underscoring how crucial it is that the GOP learn what he believes are the lessons of 2018.
“Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Charleston, S.C.?” he said, incredulously. Republicans, he said, have to reverse their losses with women and college graduates or prepare for another drubbing in 2020.
“We have to correct what was a clearly on full display in ’18, which was the loss of support among women and college graduates,” said McConnell, an electoral tactician and voracious consumer of political data. “There’s no good reason for the typical suburban resident to be frightened by this Republican Senate.”
To turn things around, McConnell is recommending to his members, and Trump, that they downplay the red meat issues, such as immigration and Obamacare repeal, so appealing to grassroots Republicans, and instead shift the spotlight to an issue that the gamut of Republicans can agree on: concern about many Democrats’ open embrace of socialist policies.
The majority leader figures suburban voters critical to the president’s reelection and the continuation of the GOP Senate majority might be wary of Democratic plans to put health insurance under full government control and heavily regulate the energy industry. McConnell’s strategy is for Republicans to run as the “firewall against socialism.”
“I never thought in my lifetime we’d be having a debate about the virtues of capitalism. For goodness sake, we are,” McConnell said. “If you’re uncomfortable with things like the Green New Deal and Medicare for none, the best way to avoid that is to have a Republican Senate.
“This is a better argument for the president to make as well, but he makes his own decisions,” he added.
Trump at the outset of his reelection bid is emphasizing familiar issues: border security, the economy and, once again, promises to partially repeal and replace Obamacare, the healthcare law signed by President Barack Obama nine years ago. The president may be gearing up to run a campaign focused on juicing base turnout rather than forging a broader coalition.
It worked in 2016, with Trump winning a healthy 306 votes in the Electoral College and Republicans holding their Senate majority despite defending seats in a handful of perennially blue states.
But just in case 2020 unfolds differently, McConnell is urging his most vulnerable incumbents — Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, appointed Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, and possibly Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — to be prepared to run independent races that differentiate themselves from Trump.
“My advice to all of our people … paint your own picture,” McConnell said. “We’re planning on running independent campaigns.”