Mitch McConnell speaking
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

In a sig­na­ture line from Nor­man Lear’s fond­ly remem­bered 1970s TV sit­com “Maude,” the impe­ri­ous lib­er­al matri­arch (played by actress Bea Arthur) would glare at hus­band or a fam­i­ly mem­ber and say: “God’ll get you for that.”

The line offers one path of expla­na­tion for the unex­pect­ed twists of Elec­tion 2022 and a set of thwart­ed ambi­tions. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing sequence of events:

  • Ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Antonin “Nino” Scalia died in his sleep on Feb­ru­ary 13th, 2016, while on a quail hunt­ing trip to Texas. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma had the con­sti­tu­tion­al duty of send­ing the nom­i­na­tion of a suc­ces­sor to the U.S. Sen­ate for confirmation.
  • With­in hours of Scalia’s death, how­ev­er, Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the vacan­cy should not be filled until after the 2016 elec­tion. Repub­li­cans held a 54–46 Sen­ate major­i­ty. McConnell and Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee Chair­man Sen­a­tor Chuck Grass­ley refused to even to hold a hear­ing on Obama’s nom­i­na­tion of Mer­rick Gar­land, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and now the Attor­ney Gen­er­al, to fill the vacancy.
  • Don­ald Trump cap­tured the pres­i­den­cy and nom­i­nat­ed con­ser­v­a­tive appel­late judge Neil Gor­such to fill the Scalia vacan­cy. A major Trump regime goal was to fill the fed­er­al bench with judges approved by the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety. Gor­such won con­fir­ma­tion on a large­ly par­ty line vote, the Sen­ate being split 52–48.
  • Trump then got to fill two more vacan­cies on the Supreme Court. Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg suc­cumbed to can­cer weeks before the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Did McConnell fol­low his 2016 prece­dent and await judg­ment of the Amer­i­can peo­ple? Nope. He rushed through con­fir­ma­tion of nom­i­nee Amy Coney Bar­rett in lit­tle more than a month.

The Coney Bar­rett appoint­ment was unveiled at the height of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. A most­ly mask­less ultra MAGA crowd cel­e­brat­ed on the White House lawn. It turned into a super­spread­er event. Trump con­tract­ed COVID-19. So did Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame pres­i­dent Father John Jenk­ins, pic­tured with­out a mask despite his stern instruc­tions to stu­dents back on campus.

The three Trump-appoint­ed jus­tices have formed the bul­wark of a new right-wing super­ma­jor­i­ty on the Supreme Court. In June of this year, the high court hand­ed down the Dobbs rul­ing, over­turn­ing Roe v. Wade and depriv­ing mil­lions of  Amer­i­can women of a right that has been theirs for just short of fifty years. The opinion’s author, Jus­tice Samuel Ali­to, went on a vic­to­ry tour, gen­tly mock­ing crit­ics at a speech in Rome and bask­ing in cheers at a Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety dinner.

The shock of Dobbs gave way to action. Amer­i­can women swelled vot­er reg­is­tra­tion rolls. A con­ser­v­a­tive state, Kansas, vot­ed down by 59–41% a bid to repeal abor­tion rights. Mea­sures guar­an­tee­ing choice went on the bal­lot in Michi­gan and Cal­i­for­nia. In the mean­time, Sen­a­tor McConnell hint­ed at a nation­wide abor­tion ban. Sen­a­tor Lind­say Gra­ham, R‑South Car­oli­na, pro­posed a bill to ban abor­tion after fif­teen weeks of pregnancy.

Repro­duc­tive free­dom became a mar­quee issue in the 2022 midterms.

A McConnell-spon­sored PAC, the Sen­ate Lead­er­ship Fund, poured as much as $30 mil­lion into indi­vid­ual Sen­ate races, hop­ing to put Repub­li­cans back into con­trol of the Sen­ate, and in a posi­tion to take up Graham’s legislation.

It wasn’t to be. Women com­prised a major­i­ty of vot­ers, and abor­tion helped make them a bul­wark of Demo­c­ra­t­ic strength. Sin­gle women vote Demo­c­ra­t­ic by a split of 66–31%. The result: Abor­tion rights defend­ers won Sen­ate seats from Ari­zona to Wash­ing­ton, from New Hamp­shire to Ari­zona, from Col­orado to Neva­da. Embat­tled pro-choice Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nors were returned to office in Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin, Kansas, Maine and and New Mexico.

And Democ­rats kept con­trol of the Sen­ate, in a break from most of the recent midterm elec­tions in 1994, 2006 and 2014. Those occurred dur­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­cies and each result­ed in a loss of con­trol of Con­gress’ upper chamber.

Mitch McConnell won’t get to return as Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader in the 118th Con­gress. Nor will he be able to stall the chamber’s busi­ness. A Demo­c­ra­t­ic-run Sen­ate has con­firmed eighty-three fed­er­al judges in the past two years and has one hun­dred and sev­en­teen nom­i­nees await­ing action. McConnell indi­cat­ed a Repub­li­can major­i­ty would block any Biden nom­i­nee to the Supreme Court.

Won’t hap­pen.

While the price they paid is steep, Amer­i­can women have deliv­ered a come­up­pance to Mitch McConnell. The Sen­ate Repub­li­can leader sowed the wind in Feb­ru­ary of 2016. He is reap­ing the whirl­wind in 2022.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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