By: Scott Jennings
With 2016 ending, let’s remember those we lost this year: a liberal Supreme Court, the Clinton Era, and the Kentucky Democratic Party. Cue the violins…
McConnell Saves the Court and Ends the Clintons
The year’s most consequential news of the year came on February 13, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stunned the political world:
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaking swiftly following the passing of conservative giant Antonin Scalia.
McConnell’s country hardball stunned the White House. Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid wept and gnashed teeth. Liberal newspaper editorial boards across the country flipped out. And Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland fell flat, the political equivalent of ordering dry toast at a Michelin three-star restaurant.
Obama branded Garland a moderate jurist to scare purple-state Republican Senators into pressuring McConnell to cave. Liberal groups organized tens of people to protest McConnell’s office in Louisville, revealing weak grassroots support despite the predictably breathless news coverage. Obama desperately wanted Garland viewed as a consensus pick, but the only things you find in the middle of the road these days are yellow lines and dead squirrels. Garland never had a chance.
McConnell’s move will vibrate throughout American history as one of the shrewdest ever conceived by a Senate leader, not just because of its impact on the court but because it helped Donald Trump win the presidency. McConnell stiff-armed Obama in February and ended the Clinton era in one fell swoop.
For months, Trump struggled to achieve enough support among his own party to win. But Trump ultimately captured 90 percent of Republicans per exit polls, as previously skeptical conservative and evangelical voters decided Scalia’s seat must be saved. Trump has McConnell to thank for delivering a motivating issue to millions of voters who ultimately couldn’t bear the thought of Hillary Clinton jerking the Supreme Court to the left.
McConnell’s Lamar Jackson-esque touchdown pass to Trump, thrown while deftly avoiding would-be Democratic tacklers, earns him this year’s conservative Heisman Trophy.
Kentucky Democratic Party Withers
Last November, Governor Matt Bevin stunned Democrats with his blowout victory over Jack Conway. This year, Democrats watched helplessly as Bevin led the General Assembly to pass much of his agenda in the spring, followed by watching Republicans attain super majorities in both chambers in November.
Just as they did in 2015, Democrats ran their campaigns as a referendum on Bevin’s conservative, reform-minded agenda. There was no education in the second kick of a mule, as Kentucky voters again rejected stale Democratic scare tactics by ousting House Speaker Greg Stumbo and his party’s foothold on relevancy. The shellackings administered to Kentucky Democrats in the last three elections will leave marks that won’t heal for quite some time.
McConnell and Bevin showed the power of Republican teamwork, as both played major roles in helping the GOP achieve Frankfort supremacy. Kentucky Republican Chairman Mac Brown and his staff deserve mountains of respect for spinning the candidates and policies cultivated by McConnell and Bevin into political gold in November.
It is a great privilege to offer commentary in this space, and this year I thought I’d offer some accountability for my words:
My earliest prediction of a Trump victory came in May, when I wrote that a perfect political storm would lead Americans to vote for Trump as a “necessary reset of America’s broken political culture.”
In September, I opined that Trump was following the same path as Bevin in 2015, riding a wave of similar political circumstances to a pollster-shocking win. In October I wrote that a winning path for Trump could run through Michigan and Wisconsin, and called Maine’s second district as a source for a Trump electoral vote. I correctly predicted that Trump would flip Florida and Ohio, but missed on Colorado and Pennsylvania. During numerous appearances on Fox News I stated that Trump could win if he achieved 90 percent support among Republicans; that’s exactly what he received.
During the GOP primary I was more bullish on Marco Rubio’s chances than I should have been, but correctly predicted that Trump would win the nomination if the primary field remained fractured (it did). While I wrote that Trump had a strong chance to win the general election after he won the nomination, I was skeptical of his ability to do so during the primary.
On state matters, last November I projected that the GOP would finally take over the state house in 2016, something it had not controlled in nearly 100 years. I was right, but the margin of victory—64 seats out of 100!—was beyond my wildest expectations. Rest in peace, Kentucky Democratic Party. We knew ye all too well.
Thank you for reading the opinion page. I regard vibrant debate on politics and public policy as central to the health of our republic. To those who read this space, email and tweet at me, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and long live the First Amendment!
Scott Jennings previously served as an advisor to President George W. Bush and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.