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GOP's Shift to Trump Cut Down McConnell

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
7 min read
GOP's Shift to Trump Cut  Down McConnell
Photo by author.

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You want a friend in this city? [Washington, DC.] Get a dog!
Harry S. Truman
AI Narration

It has been 20 years since I was introduced to the Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) by an Australian associate. I toyed with the concept, often subconsciously, for the next 10 years while I was encumbered by a busy orthopedic practice. Once I retired I was free to explore the metaphor.

I spent the first year in a medical library, a euphemism since most medical libraries are virtual, studying TPS. The physical shell of the libraries is necessary since they still house some books such as testbooks but they pay the annual fees for hundreds of online periodicals which are unavailable to those who do not pay up.

The TPS literature is not exactly sparse but short of Australia and New Zealand, there was not a lot of reading to peruse. The Australian literature, mostly psychological, sociological, or a combination, was a treasure trove. After analyzing it, I felt comfortable enough that I could diagnose TPS when confronted.

Observational Study is a type of research design in which researchers observe and analyze individuals or groups without intervening or manipulating any variables. In other words, the researchers do not actively control or manipulate the conditions of the study; instead, they simply observe and collect data.

Observational studies are often used in various fields such as epidemiology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. They are not the type of studies commonly found in medicine although I had performed a couple that became frequently cited. They are valuable for generating hypotheses, exploring patterns, and gaining insights into various phenomena.

I spent another year generating a hypothesis and exploring cultures, customs, countries, and various periods. To my surprise, I found TPS in most countries and all periods, except America. Metaphors, names, or phrases were different but the concept of cutting down tall poppies was universal. Most countries were, in one form or another, collectivistic compared to America's individualism.

It was time to get serious and begin an informal observational study for TPS in America. My hypothesis was America respected individual rights which prevented the syndrome on our shores. I ordered periodicals and newspapers online and looked online daily for examples of TPS.

To my amazement, I found instances of TPS daily that went unrecognized by most Americans. Not only that, I felt the incidence of TPS in America was more extensive than in other countries due to our individualism and meritocracy. We were so accustomed to our competitive culture that cutting down the competition did not register in our consciousness. All these findings were published in my book The Tall Poppy Syndrome - The Joy of Cutting Others Down .  

Another significant surprise was the amount of government and government-related cutting down. One expects that in authoritarianism, dictatorships, and "isms", but not in democracies. Our government and their 3-letter agencies cut down Americans all the time. Opposition parties and political opponents routinely cut each other down. It is part of their playbook.

This blog's title - "GOP's Shift to Trump Cut Down McConnell" - is taken from the front-page article in The Wall Street Journal on Mar. 3, 2024. It concerns Mitch McConnell's resignation as Republican Senate Speaker. Some in his party are cutting down McConnell since they have moved from his more centralistic governance to that of former President Trump. It is an excellent example of my observations over the years: describing or observing "cutting down" the opposition (especially in government) while the article's author and public observe and understand the circumstances but do not recognize this behavior has a name - TPS or a form of it.

Below are some excerpts from the article that led to McConnell's cutdown:  

GOP’s Shift to Trump Cut Down McConnell
Mitch McConnell’s announcement this past week that he wouldn’t seek another term as Republican Senate leader came with a remarkable admission of defeat: “Believe me,” he said on the Senate floor, “I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time.” In ending his long era atop his party’s ranks in the upper chamber, he seemed to acknowledge the GOP had already moved away from him— and that he was powerless to steer it back.
The wily Kentuckian did as much as anyone to get Donald Trump elected president, and Trump facilitated the accomplishments that make up McConnell’s legacy. Yet Trump also led the transformation of McConnell’s beloved party into a populist force in which the Reaganite internationalist is decidedly out of place. Now McConnell, who made his reputation for ruthlessness in his battles with Democrats, departs as the latest casualty of Trump’s takeover of the GOP.
In an interview Friday, McConnell disputed the idea that his departure represented a surrender to the forces of the populist right. “I know the story line is the so-called MAGA movement basically taking over,” he said in his gravelly baritone. “Throughout my lengthy terms as leader, we’ve always had eight or 10 [senators] who basically were a little less interested in outcomes and more interested in being on the Fox evening shows. I don’t think that number has changed much.”
Yet Ukraine is only the latest issue to put McConnell at odds with an increasingly vocal cohort of pro-Trump senators, who have routinely defied him on debt-ceiling bills and other votes. Last month, McConnell’s office was deeply involved in bipartisan negotiations to pair the foreign aid with changes to immigration policy, but Trump’s opposition helped torpedo the deal.
McConnell, 82 years old, will remain as leader until senators select a new one after the November election and in the Senate until 2027. Whoever takes up his mantle will lead a GOP that is at the very least divided, if not totally transformed, by the forces McConnell spent his tenure struggling and ultimately failing to contain.
Right’s disdain
The right’s disdain for McConnell was evident in a tweet from the House Free-dom Caucus: “Our thoughts are with our Democrat colleagues in the Senate on the retirement of their Co-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ukraine),” the right-wing group jeered. Trump in recent years has dubbed McConnell “the Old Crow” and urged GOP senators to throw him out while also attacking McConnell’s wife, his onetime transportation secretary Elaine Chao, with epithets mocking her Chinese ancestry.
It’s a brutal irony considering McConnell was arguably single-handedly responsible for Trump’s election in 2016. That February, after conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, McConnell said he wouldn’t hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, instead holding the seat open until after the election.
The unprecedented move proved a motivator to GOP voters, many of whom were skeptical of Trump’s conservative bona fides. In exit polls, 1 in 5 voters said the Supreme Court was their top issue.
The Garland ploy was the culmination of McConnell’s yearslong tenure as Democrats’ bête noire, an unflinching obstructionist who weaponized Senate procedure to deny Obama the bipartisan mandate he craved. After Obama’s election in 2008 swept Democrats to wide majorities in the House and Senate, McConnell steeled the spines of nervous Republicans. At his urging, GOP senators forced Democrats to enact the 2009 economic stimulus and 2010 Affordable Care Act on party-line votes. The McConnell- led Republicans also relentlessly deployed the filibuster to slow or block action on even routine legislation and nominations.
But even as McConnell became a boogeyman to the left, the right was conspiring to stymie his rise. Ever since his election to the Senate in 1984, McConnell’s only ambition was to become majority leader. When he became minority leader in 2007, the goal seemed within reach. Yet Tea Party fervor repeatedly saddled the GOP with flawed candidates, denying McConnell the majority he craved.
In 2014, when McConnell himself was up for re-election and facing a right-wing primary challenge, he vowed to change the dynamic, recruiting favored c a n d i d a te s , shepherding them through primaries and micromanaging their general-election bids. “The dividing line for his tenure as leader really was 2014,” said his former chief of staff, Josh Holmes. “He threw all his chips in the middle of the table and said, we’re going to do it my way.” The party gained nine seats, putting McConnell at the head of a 54-seat majority.
Judicial record
Trump and McConnell could hardly have been more different in personality, but McConnell swiftly dedicated himself to capitalizing on the New York billionaire’s upset election win, chiefly by stacking the judiciary with conservatives. Republicans changed Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees and confirm Trump’s first pick, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017. Over Trump’s four years, McConnell oversaw the appointment of more than 200 federal judges, a single-term record. He also shepherded Trump’s sole major legislative accomplishment, the 2017 tax bill, through the Senate. The chamber, however, notably failed to overturn the Affordable Care Act when Sen. John McCain voted with Democrats to save it. The 2018 midterms brought a Democratic wave to the House, but the GOP managed to gain Senate seats that year. McConnell stood staunchly by a second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, despite late-breaking allegations of past sexual misconduct, and rejected the House’s first Trump impeachment for allegedly leveraging military aid to Ukraine in a political quid pro quo. And when another Supreme Court seat came open on the eve of the 2020 election, McConnell remorselessly discarded his onetime objections to election- year confirmations to push through Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment.
But after Trump lost the 2020 election, McConnell refused to abide Trump’s false claims of a rigged election, which contributed to the GOP loss of Georgia’s two Senate seats in a runoff, putting McConnell and his party back in the minority. He excoriated Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021 , Capitol riot. “The mob was fed lies,” he said at the time. Nonetheless, he shied away from holding Trump accountable, delaying his second impeachment trial and voting against a conviction that might have prevented him from seeking office again.
‘Our nominee’
Trump and McConnell haven’t spoken since before the Jan. 6 mob attack, aides say. In the Friday interview, McConnell declined to say whether he regretted his impeachment vote or whether he planned to endorse Trump, whom he referred to as “our nominee for president.”

Welcome to my world of observing and understanding humanity through the TPS lens.

Aneurin Bevan said, "Politics is a blood sport." Its metaphorical meaning is a contest involving bloodshed, or ruthless or cutthroat competition or conflict. Many politicians are frenemies. This almost always leads to cutting someone down and TPS. The public's best interest may or may not always be served but often schadenfreude is.

For the record, only James K. Polk and Donald Trump did not have animal pets during their presidencies. Three-quarters of the presidents had dogs. It looks like President Truman was spot on.  

tall poppy syndromeMitch McConnellpoliticsschadenfreudeTrumpgovernmentpoliticians

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.


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