These are not easy times for Mitch McConnell.
The Senate majority leader’s failure to pass health-care legislation last month not only dashed the Republican dream of repealing the Affordable Care Act, but it exposed the fragility of his reputation as a brilliant tactician who could keep his caucus in line.
McConnell is now under attack on multiple fronts. He has had to resist pressure from President Trump to change Senate rules and eliminate the legislative filibuster in response to the Obamacare defeat—a move that, as McConnell has gently reminded the president, neither has the votes to pass among Republicans nor would it have altered the result of the party-line health-care bill.
In Alabama, he has become an unlikely bogeyman in the Republican primary for a special Senate election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Conservatives challenging McConnell’s preferred candidate, the appointed fill-in Senator Luther Strange, have laced into the majority leader without abandon. Representative Mo Brooks, an anti-immigration hawk, has called his campaign a referendum on “swamp king Mitch McConnell” and has vowed to oppose him as party leader if elected. “Mo’s tired of McConnell’s failure, cowardice, and surrender, and so are you,” a narrator in one Brooks TV ad intoned. Judge Roy Moore, the social conservative warrior who was suspended from his post as Alabama’s chief justice, has adopted a similar strategy in his campaign. Urging Republicans to “send McConnell a message,” Moore attacked his “D.C. slime machine” and said he “lied” about repealing Obamacare in a recent ad.