McConnell has made an obvious effort to align himself with fellow Kentuckian and tea party favorite Rand Paul .
“I think that things that have been demonstrated this week are that one, it validates the claim that [McConnell] and Republicans have been making for a long time that he has a huge target on his back because he’s the leader. Two, that the No. 1 priority of the left is to defeat Mitch McConnell. And three, that Mitch McConnell is prepared to crush them,” said one veteran of Republican Senate campaigns.
This trench warfare mindset was particularly evident in the aggressive public relations campaign surrounding the secretly recorded strategy session at McConnell’s campaign headquarters in Kentucky.
Through deft maneuvering, McConnell’s campaign, national Republicans and McConnell himself helped turn the narrative from harsh campaign tactics to outrage over being surreptitiously taped. And Democrats are helping justify Team McConnell’s image of victimhood. On April 12, for example, the group Americans United for Change released an anti-McConnell ad tying his opposition to background checks to al-Qaida.
“What should give Sen. McConnell and fellow Republicans who oppose broader background checks great pause is that their position is so unpopular that virtually the only people who agree with them are big gun manufacturers, criminals, and terrorists,” Americans United for Change Executive Director Tom McMahon said in a statement. “Senator McConnell doesn’t even want to have a debate about gun safety in Newtown’s aftermath. Talk about a slap to the face to all families whose loved ones were taken away by gun violence.”
And it’s just April. Of 2013.
It’s unclear what effect McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders’ political maneuvers might have on the policy decisions of the conference. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, is also running for re-election and has also been trying to shore up his bona fides on the right. Like McConnell, Cornyn’s Senate battery mate — Cruz — is a conservative, young politician who tacks to the right on almost every issue. Cornyn was one of only three senators to vote against the nomination of then-colleague John Kerry to secretary of State because Cruz did. On issues such as immigration, these considerations could put leaders in a tight spot, Senate sources said.