Supreme Court’s Immunity Gift To Trump Is McConnell’s Legacy

Estimated read time 3 min read

With the news of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) imminent retirement Wednesday, we’re left to examine the legacy of someone who has forever changed our government. 

McConnell shattered norms — making obstructionism accepted and expected, candidly expressing his goal of restricting Barack Obama to a single term, brazenly stealing a Supreme Court seat — long before Donald Trump’s ascension. He helped mold a Republican party defined not by its own policy aims, but by thwarting the opposition. 

And while he had no problem withstanding the torrent of criticism from those invested in a functional democracy, he failed to stand up to Trump when it mattered most. 

After witnessing four years of his destructive tendencies, after, by all accounts, building up considerable personal disdain for the impulsive and egotistical head of his party, he watched as Trump’s followers sacked his beloved Senate. 

The danger of Trump was irrefutable, and even dyed-in-the-wool Republicans were wobbling in their deference to the man who nearly had them killed. If McConnell had stood up then, had told his conference that he was done, that he was ready to rid his party of this cancer, it seems very likely that the Senate would have convicted Trump and ended the immediate danger. The Republican Party may have floundered in the short term, had to do the hard work of finding out what its direction and focus would be without Trump, puzzle out a way to attract people beyond grievance politics and to win elections without suppressing the votes of the other side.

That didn’t happen. Trump was acquitted by the Senate, and has as much power over McConnell’s party today as ever. The Supreme Court, crafted in his image, is nakedly partisan, with little interest in precedent or restraint. Accordingly, the Court, which only works if people respect it as an institution, has seen its approval level drop to record lows

On Wednesday, after a couple weeks of delay, the justices announced in a one-page document that they would take up Trump’s immunity challenge, an offshoot of Jack Smith’s January 6 case. This is nearly as good for Trump as a ruling in his favor, as it makes it all but certain that only one of his four felony indictment cases — the Stormy Daniels hush money case, widely considered the least serious of the four — will conclude before the 2024 election. 

Plaudits will be written for McConnell, praising his congressional chess moves, his capture of the federal judiciary, his talent for keeping his conference in lockstep. But this — a four-times indicted, twice-impeached former president sprinting to cloak himself in the protections of the presidency before the vast legal repercussions wash over him —  this is McConnell’s true legacy.  

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