Here’s the bottom line. It’s not that Kentucky tea party Republicans wouldn’t like to take on McConnell. Their problem is they have no candidate who can do it. Paul isn’t available and Massie and Phil Moffett aren’t interested. McConnell has $7 million in the bank and has the imprimatur of Benton as his campaign manager and Paul’s open support.
Plus he has the reputation as the “wood-chipper,” the label used by his former Chief of Staff Billy Piper to describe his take-no-prisoners campaign style. (The reference was to the grotesque disposal of a body at the conclusion of the movie FARGO.)
If McConnell has in fact decided he hasn’t much to fear from his right, it frees him in two important ways.
He can help craft a national compromise on major fiscal and budget issues. With his right flank secure, McConnell has more room to manuever in negotiations with Obama on the debt limit and spending.
If he can do that, avoiding national default or an economic crisis while securing some concessions on spending, especially on entitlements, he can claim victory for Republicans while undercutting Democrats’ attacks that he is an obstructionist, more concerned with his own political interests than the welfare of the nation.
He can tell Republicans back home he got the best deal available and forced Obama into spending cuts. He can tell independents and conservative Democrats he acted as a statesman and broke through Washington dysfunction and gridlock and perhaps avoided financial catastrophe.
The role McConnell plays in the looming debt limit and budget fights might just tell us whether he worries more about the general election or a potential primary challenge.