Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

With another poll showing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) trailing his potential Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s senior senator got some very bad news in his primary challenge from Tea Partier Matt Bevin.

Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) all refused to endorse McConnell on Thursday.

All three senators are heroes of the Tea Party movement and vehemently oppose funding Obamacare.

NBC News reports:

“That’s a decision for the people of Kentucky to make,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said when asked on Thursday if he planned to support McConnell over Bevin.

“I think Sen. McConnell is very capable of taking that challenge on himself,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), adding that he doesn’t typically involve himself in primaries. “Pretend we never talked,” he said, laughing.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) agreed to stop and talk to a reporter about a push he’s leading to defund the president’s health care law. “I would love to have him,” he said when asked if he wants McConnell’s support for that initiative.

Asked a follow up question about whether he planned to support Bevin or McConnell, Lee said: “You’ve gone off topic. Thank you, though.”

This is why our Henry Decker said McConnell has “an Obamacare problem.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who defeated the candidate endorsed by McConnell in 2010’s GOP Kentucky U.S. Senate primary, has endorsed McConnell. Since then the minority leader has reached out to Paul and the Tea Party, even hiring Paul’s old campaign manager Jesse Benton to run his re-election bid.

The new poll from the Mellman Group should be even more disturbing for McConnell than the PPP Polls survey, where he trailed by 1 percent. It shows Grimes, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, leading McConnell by 2 percent in a head-to-head race. Among voters who are familiar with both candidates, Grimes leads by 15 percent.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 8.59.03 AM
McConnell is known for his willingness to go negative against opponents, something Grimes seemed to be preparing for in her opening campaign ad.

As Politico‘s Glenn Thrush tweeted:


Who do you think would be a tougher opponent for Grimes — McConnell or Tea Partier Bevin?

NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect that while all three senators oppose the funding of Obamacare, they have not all endorsed a government shutdown.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at