Mitch McConnell, Fire-Breathing Libertarian Populist

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 6 2013 3:00 PM

Mitch McConnell, Fire-Breathing Libertarian Populist

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Two sides of the same coin?

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The single best report from this weekend's annual Fancy Farm in Kentucky—a delicious daylong party interrupted by political speeches—comes from—Alec MacGillis. Reporting in the area for a few days, MacGillis rips the fluff away from the current Tea Party/Mitch McConnell detente. Which is to say it's not much of a detente. Reporting from one event with McConnell ...

... lingering in the room was David Adams, a conservative activist who ran the stunning primary campaign of Rand Paul in 2010, and who, while not yet formally involved in this year’s race, predicted that McConnell would meet the same fate from his own Tea Party challenger, businessman Matt Bevin, even if McConnell had done his best to co-opt Paul and his followers, in part by hiring as his campaign manager Jesse Benton, who replaced Adams for Paul’s general election push. “Mitch McConnell needs to retire,” Adams said, matter-of-factly. “And he needs to do it before the primary so he doesn’t get embarrassed.”
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But McConnell's already been reshaping his public image, from a recognizable, pragmatic manager of "no" votes to a fist-pumping Paul-ian. The full speech from McConnell's Fancy Farm appearance is online now, and it's striking how often he returns to the Paul well. It's not just that he's fighting Washington—it's that he and Paul are fighting, and fighting on picayune (but important if you live there) issues like keeping fishing legal wherever possible.

McConnell isn't appealing to Republicans on his actual record of opposing when he can, then cutting a deal—like the deal he cut on the fiscal cliff. He's running further right, something that must have seemed impossible before the strategy went into effect.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.