The past four months have been like a train wreck for Sen. Mitch McConnell.
In November he failed on his No. 1 goal of defeating President Barack Obama, as well as whiffed on his lifelong goal of becoming Senate majority leader, somehow managing to lose two seats to the Democrats. He followed up in December with the national embarrassment of filibustering his own bill, then abandoned an entire career of anti-tax rhetoric by spearheading a huge tax increase on income over $450,000 at the New Year’s fiscal cliff deadline.
This was followed by the Tea Party in Kentucky beginning to openly revolt against McConnell, directly criticizing him for the tax increase and looking for a primary challenger – showing that his yearlong strategy to court the far-right conservatives was failing.
Then came the bad polls, showing McConnell to be the least popular senator in the country, only 17 percent of Kentuckians solidly in his camp, and a famous liberal actress and host of challengers within single digits of the five-term senator.
His re-election campaign also began to start swinging wildly with strange and paranoid attacks to appeal to far-right conservatives, not only alienating the moderate voters who will determine his fate next year, but showing how desperate the campaign is to turn the tide and convince the media and public he’s not as vulnerable to defeat as he really is.
The only two things that have gone in McConnell’s favor over this time are two life-rafts that were thrown to him by the liberal so-called “Super PAC” Progress Kentucky, now nationally infamous after yesterday’s giant race-baiting ball of stupid.
In late January, Progress Kentucky told Politico it was coordinating with the Tea Party in Kentucky to recruit and support a primary challenger to McConnell. His Senate campaign quite predictably amplified this report, claiming that any Tea Party criticism of him was simply manufactured by the Democrats. Of course, none of this was actually true, as Progress Kentucky has zero influence on the Tea Party, and virtually zero money to actually put any support behind a candidate.
Despite the damage that this boneheaded move did to the effort to defeat McConnell – which is supposed to be the PAC’s goal – Progress Kentucky heralded their national coverage and attention as a great success.
And then there was yesterday’s calamity, as WFPL’s Phillip Bailey turned Progress Kentucky’s stupid tweets into a national story, made even worse by the lying about who made the tweets and the mind-boggling doubling down on them, only to cave and apologize hours later.
Yesterday’s debacle did the impossible, turning Mitch McConnell – who usually elicits an amount of sympathy equal to that of head lice – into a victim.
While yesterday certainly seems like a setback for the effort to defeat McConnell, in actuality most Democrats in the know around the state – ranging from liberals to moderates to Greg Stumbo – realize that this is ultimately a win in the long run. Why? Because the erratic mess of bad messaging and strategy that has come to characterize Progress Kentucky – as well as the strange compulsion of national media following the Senate race to treat Progress Kentucky as some kind of important entity that should be covered and quoted – is effectively over and done with.
In reality, those within the state familiar with Progress Kentucky knew they were never going to be a major player in this race, and now the national media is onto that fact. While Progress Kentucky says they will continue, you’ll have a hard time finding anyone who will now defend, support, and give them money. And it’s not like anyone was giving them money to begin with. They had only raised $4,000 online, and while they haven’t filed yet with the FEC, we have to doubt that they’ve managed to raise a great deal more than that.
While we don’t have much desire to pile on to the individual responsible for yesterday’s mess – having a viral national story depicting you as a vile racist is a lot to go through – many Democrats in Kentucky familiar with Progress Kentucky’s operation, staffing and strategy could see a train wreck coming from a mile away, but couldn’t do anything to stop it, nor the fixation that national media had for treating them as a big player that should be given a loud voice as the key “anti-Mitch Super PAC.”
So why did the national media give them such coverage? It comes down to two things: 1) the “hotness” of this race and desire to find angles to write about it, and 2) the mythology behind this strange new creature in our post-Citizens United era known as the “Super PAC.”
We’ve all seen how Super PACs have become an all-powerful force in national politics, even here in Kentucky, as Rep. Thomas Massie’s upset primary win last year proved especially well. So when a “Super PAC” emerges to take on perhaps the most powerful Republicans in the country, the Beltway press bites for it hard – despite their lack of money or influence within the state, which were details such journalists either didn’t know about, or didn’t care about. They’re “super,” so they must be important, right?
Thus a group of amateurs with horrible messaging and strategy were given a loud megaphone in the national press to be the representatives of the Ditch Mitch movement, which we’ve all now seen the consequences of.
That’s not to say amateurs cannot or should not play a role in politics, as many amateur Facebook pages and Twitter accounts can send out a barrage of memes and information that helps inform and energize a base of support, which Progress Kentucky did a somewhat effective job of. But if you want to take up the national mantle as THE group who is going to take down Mitch McConnell, you have to know what the hell you’re doing.
And this is why Democrats who want to defeat McConnell have a great sense of relief right now, because Progress Kentucky is effectively dead, and they’ll soon be replaced by a new group of seasoned professionals who know how to mess with a powerful political candidate on the ropes and know how to raise a hell of a lot of money to further that cause.
In fact, if I was McConnell, I’d seriously consider finding an obscenely wealthy supporter who is willing to write Progress Kentucky a ginormous check that could keep them operational, as Progress Kentucky has been the only thing helping McConnell’s re-election campaign over the past four months. His campaign and national Republican organizations were celebrating yesterday, but in four months they’ll be wishing Progress Kentucky was the independent expenditure group they were battling, and not the hardened pros who are bludgeoning McConnell with focused messaging that has loads of money behind it.
But until that time, Democrats in Kentucky and across the country – liberals, moderates and conservatives – have a loud and unified message for Progress Kentucky: Pack up your stuff and go away.