Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is one of the most powerful Senators to ever serve in the Senate, and the historic length of his leadership of Senate Republicans assures his place in history. But every powerful and famous figure has an end to their time in the public eye, regardless of their place in history. It's increasingly clear we've approached that moment for Senator McConnell. It's time for him to step aside from Senate leadership.
The reason for this shift is simple. McConnell froze up again during a press conference. He stood motionless for the second time in as many weeks, appearing unable to hear or respond to the question asked. Dr. Brian Monahan, Congress' attending physician, cleared McConnell to continue his activities, saying, "I have consulted with Leader McConnell and conferred with his neurology team. After evaluating yesterday's incident, I have informed Leader McConnell that he is medically clear to continue with his schedule as planned."
It is reminiscent of Winston Churchill's second term as Prime Minister in the early 1950s. Churchill returned as Prime Minister but suffered from ailing health due to several mini-strokes, which he ignored in typical Churchillian fashion. Four years into his second stint, he resigned because of his declining health. However, he left leadership while remaining in Parliament until 1964, a year before his death.
There is a lesson here for McConnell - stepping aside from leadership does not mean he has to leave the Senate. Republicans have raised the concern that any McConnell Senate replacement would be made by current Democratic Governor Andy Beshear.
Ben Domenech eloquently argues this isn't the case in The American Spectator, writing:
The truth is that McConnell is not so dramatically reduced in his capacity that he needs to step down as a senator. He shows far greater capacity than current Senate Democrats Dianne Feinstein or John Fetterman, nor does he have the health struggles of the likes of Thad Cochran or Johnny Isakson in their final years. But continuing on as minority leader headed into a critical election year is a different question entirely. Stepping down from one role doesn't necessitate stepping down from the job entirely — Nancy Pelosi is still around here somewhere, keeping things running on time.
McConnell's role as an elder statesman in the Republican Party is secured. Whoever replaces him in the Senate Leadership role can still seek his advice, just like Democrats and Nancy Pelosi in the House.
Aside from McConnell's health harming the GOP Leader's hold on the caucus, there are also upcoming elections. Republicans are trying to contrast the incapacity of Democrats to provide young, viable options across the country. With Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, and John Fetterman all prominently having issues performing in their jobs, Republicans must show a strong front.
That kind of pitch will be hard enough if Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, who has also lost a step. If voters see Trump and McConnell at the forefront, the differences between the parties vanish. It's a cold political calculation but an inescapable one.
Like Churchill's ailing health, both the people and his own party lost faith he could hold up under the job. And though he couldn't say in the moment, Churchill admitted he couldn't hold up under the job a year after resigning from leadership, saying in a letter: "I am not the man I was. I could not be Prime Minister now."
National Review's editorial on the subject was sound regarding McConnell, "Prudence and realism have been hallmarks of his leadership and now are called for in considering his own future."
It's worth remembering that advice next week for Senate Republicans. Politico reports that Senate Republicans are said to be holding a meeting next week, when Senators return to Congress, to discuss the topic. It only takes five Senators to force the issue, which no one is demanding. This is not about an overthrow of McConnell. It's simply a request by all involved to ease the load on the Senator by stepping aside from leadership, allowing one of his leadership team to take the top spot, and letting McConnell have more time to recuperate.
Leadership is stressful and demanding. A look at every President before and after they leave that office, no matter the age, is instructive. Mitch McConnell has held the top spot in Republican Senate politics for a generation. He started his leadership run in 2007 and holds the record for longest-serving leader.
Mitch McConnell can step aside from leadership, leaving the party in solid hands for another generation. That doesn't mean he has to leave the Senate; he's earned that deference, but the Senate needs him to use the prudence he's had on other matters with his own political career. His time in Senate leadership is closing, just as Churchill's closed in 1955. For his own sake, and the country's, I hope he steps aside to help guide new leadership.