Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a lot to contend with these days. Donald Trump’s push to reshape the GOP around an ideology best defined as vulgarian fascism has Senate Republicans terrified of losing their majority come November. The only other semi-serious contender in the GOP presidential hunt, Senator Ted Cruz, rose to fame by bashing McConnell as a spineless, soulless, chinless liar—and then he dropped out on Tuesday night, meaning he’ll soon be returning full-time to tormenting his leader. And the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February fated McConnell to spend the rest of this year explaining to the country why President Obama does not in fact have the right to appoint his successor to the High Court. Small wonder McConnell has the Senate working the fewest days of any session in 60 years; the beleaguered leader clearly could use a little extra “me” time.
In the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, however, McConnell has one political ace up his sleeve: the House Freedom Caucus.
Don’t misunderstand. Freedom Caucus crusaders loathe McConnell, maybe even more than they loathe President Obama. (Obama may be an infidel, but McConnell is a heretic, which dooms him to a much nastier circle of hell.) Cynical, opportunistic, and establishment to his core, McConnell represents, in conservative purists’ minds, all that is wrong with the GOP. It is the rare Freedom Caucuser who misses an opportunity—in one-on-one chats and public forums alike—to take a shot at the Senate leader. In late March, some angry caucus members suggested that, if McConnell failed to properly shepherd yet another one of their pet bills, he would need to go the way of deposed Speaker John Boehner. (How exactly members of the lower chamber plan to overthrow the head of the upper chamber is not entirely clear.) For a sense of the level of passions at play here, cue up last season’s Game of Thrones finale, in which Jon Snow was butchered by his own troops. That should clear things up.